Every so often, maybe once a decade, I hear a presentation at a conference that profoundly affects my thinking. The first was in 1985 at the Medical Library Association conference in New York. Leland Kaiser, health care futurist, predicted the current health care financing crisis due to the outdated fee-for-service model, but what affected me most was his folksy saying, “it is the job of the shoe to fit the foot; not the job of the foot to fit the shoe.” This led to my evolving philosophy of “it’s not about us, all about them” and our mission to help our users succeed.
At the 1995 ACRL National Conference in Pittsburgh, I heard a brilliant paper by Saskia Sassen on global cities and the centrality of place, which helped to explain why humans choose to be together, even if they are alone in a crowd, which we see every day in the ZSR atrium as part of the “library as place” phenomenon.
Today, I heard a paper that may be in that class. Not quite sure yet, I need to digest it some more. Jaron Lanier was introduced as a computer scientist, composer, visual artist and author. He warned libraries not to bring about the same fate as the music industry when the intellectual property wars led to the destruction of both industry moguls and artists/performers. When we promote access to speech as widely, freely and openly as possible, then we demystify the magic of the book and the mystique of authorship that has kept it special and viable for so long. People fall in love with things they have to work for. If things are too easy, they are not valued. Part of the historical respect that libraries have enjoyed and one reason they have been successful in promoting the democratization of information is the elite nature of their content and the access that is hard-won. There is value to the inconvenience ritual that is not appreciated until it is gone, like the music industry.
He says giants like Google and Facebook do not allow a level playing field. They have made the investment that is prohibitive to replicate and they are doing to information what the bankers and hedge fund managers have done to finance.They own both ends of the process and can pull money out without risk, which defeats capitalism and destroys the middle class.
The most disquieting thing he said was that we, the users of Google and Facebook are not the customers, we are the product. We are what is sold to others in the form of monetized access between people in the guise of advertising.
He advises that the future of the academic library is not to make things too open and easy, but to become ever more personal (ala Kaiser and Sassen) while at the same time recognizing the connections between technologically heterogeneous data that no one else without our particular view of the world can see.
Need to chew on this some more.