The Internet is More Attractive than the Library

A colleague sent me a link to the Power Point slides for the presentation “Why the Internet is More Attractive than the Library.” I am always conflicted about posting about slides.  The reason is that without the actual voice/presentation you loose a lot by just viewing the slides.  Often the best in-person presentations have the least amount of information on their slides, so viewing them outside of the live presentation isn’t helpful.   Without judging Lynn Silipigni Connaway’s presentation (I wasn’t there) her slides do have some good information that can be understood without hearing the presentation (although I wish there was an audio file synced to the slides).

Because Lynn’s presentation discusses a lot about users’ behaviors and thoughts prior to the Internet vs. now, it reminds me a lot about a presentation I did a few years ago for the MLGSCA Technology Symposium, “The Evolving Library.”

Both of our presentations discuss how users today are different than in the past and use/view libraries differently.  Lynn says that users used to build their workflow around the library, now the library must build its services around users’ workflow.  I think this is because libraries are seeing more Net Generation users than Net Learners.  As I mentioned in one of my slides, Net Learners (those who didn’t grow up with technology) come to the library to search or read and while technology makes research easier it isn’t a requirement for them.  The Net Generation (those who grew up with technology) want the library to come to them so they can research or read when and where they want to.   Technology is essential for everything they do. 

My presentation was given in 2009 and the differences have only grown and magnified within the last 3 years.  WiFi is even more pervasive, users have iPads and tablets to read books, and smart phones are doing more than they did back then.  People are mapping and tracking their workout runs and posting them online for friends…who did that in 2009?! 

I would even go on to say that the Net Generation is altering the way Net Learners are thinking and even causing them to evolve and become more like the Net Generation in some ways.  I have no official proof, just observational and anecdotal information gained from my mom and her new iPad.  (Those stories could be another whole blog.)

From what I can tell from Lynn’s slides, the change in user behavior and thought process forces us to re-evaluate the way we provide library services and resources.  On slide 32 she seems to say we need to start running libraries as if they are a startup company instead of an already established insitution.  Startup companies are forced to be more flexible as they try to evolve to successful business. 

LIbraries aren’t the only ones who have evolutionary faults.  The list is long of once big businesses that failed or are failing due to the evolution of technology, customer behavior, cultures, etc.  Heck, just look at Yahoo.  Yahoo was the “it” company in the 90’s.  At one point its stocks hit an all time high of $188.75/share before hitting a low of $4.05 and now trade around $15/share.

There are all sorts of theories as to why Yahoo is losing (some say failed already). A Gizmodo article mentions Flickr’s acquisition by Yahoo as an example of how the now established Yahoo lost the vision of evolution and just sought to acquire companies as appendages to integrate.  The Economic Times claims Yahoo failed because it didn’t “transition from websites that publish professional content to a new digital world dominated by mobile phones and sites where the users are the content creators.”  Wired blames it on leadership Terry Semel (a luddite who didn’t use email at the time) who failed to see the real value of Google when Google went to Yahoo for money.  Whatever the cause, Yahoo is in trouble because it failrd to evolve to user needs/demands.  Once it became a more established company it lost its flexibility to evolve that it once had as a startup.

So what is a library to do if even a once darling startup like Yahoo is having problems evolving, aren’t we all doomed to fail if they can’t get it right?  Well you could say that, but I am a glass is half full kind of gal.  There are examples of established companies that operate, evolve, and are flexible like startups.  You could point to Apple which had its fair share of ups and downs but now is driving the way consumers use technology, not the other way around.  Costco takes every notion about consumer spending and turns it on its ear and turns a mighty profit by continually evolving to consumer demands (You must see Costco Craze, it was very interesting.). 

So there is hope for libraries but we need to be more flexible and one way to do that is to think like a startup as Lynn suggested, because right now the Internet is more attractive than libraries.

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