Many, many thanks to Madam Librarian and MetaWhat! Data! for their posts on Nat Torkington’s Where It All Went Wrong. Provocative, isn’t it? And Torkington’s not wrong, at all. But he’s correct over a certain scope.
First off, MetaWhat is right: Microsoft isn’t hurting. They’re not doing great in innovation land, but they still make, for most purposes, the operating system and the office productivity suite. They fell, but they fell from being Deity of the PC Universe, and that wasn’t a sustainable business model. Saying that Apple adapted is misleading; Apple went from losing hard to being a strong competitor in a completely different arena. And they now try to keep Google from eating their lunch.
But libraries. Torkington was speaking to the National and State Librarians of Australasia. Oh yes, public and governmental research libraries are feeling the pinch. Public libraries have always been the access to information for those who wouldn’t otherwise have it, and I think they still are. When Torkington says, “Good broadband is coming to all of us,” he means Australasian libraries, not us. Public libraries have never been primarily for those who have their own libraries and their own computer access. And that’s easy to forget, I think, for those of us who do have the access.
Libraries have also been the places for people who want access to information that’s free, but not so free you can keep it forever. Goodness, I hope we finally figure out e-book access so that it’s as useful and worry-free as regular book access (okay, not that worry-free, but still…). Sure, Amazon could do it (for a “reasonable” fee), but they still offer the bare basics as a recommendation service and as a collection developer. Heck, they still stink as a recommendation service. But librarians still have the potential to work with e-books as well as books.
As for “e-music, e-movies, e-ephemera, e-maps, e-paintings, e-sculpture, and who knows what e-lse.” (Torkington), MetaWhat is right that most folks are not terribly interested in pale copies. I mean, yeah, the e-Taj Mahal is better than nothing, and maybe 3-D printing will give us a Mona Lisa in every living room someday. But so many awful things are better than nothing, and, for now, monitors hurt to look at for extended periods of time, and 3-D printing is an infant, and even then, we’ll need a place for people to gather and be as social and/or quiet as they want to be and not be so anonymous without forcing them to buy a coffee or a pint. And it would be nice if there were information there, free but not so free that someone else grabs it forever, findable, with a guide for when you’re a bit lost.