Giving up the Temple Robes

“Instead of finding things, how about doing things? How about creating localized collections of our most unique stuff and, more importantly, helping our library users to do the same? Watching the Harper¬Collins/Overdrive ebook license limitation kerfuffle leads me to imagine a future where libraries gather, produce, and curate content in ways only beginning to be explored that bypass the traditional author to publisher to library to reader model we’ve worked with for ¬decades” (Stephens, 2011).

He’s certainly not the first person to make this observation, but he’s perhaps one of the biggest “mainstream” names to really start talking about this kind of uniquely local, patron-centered and created collection. The fact of the matter is that resources like Amazon.com, Netflix, Gamefly, etc. all provide popular content more conveniently and reliably than we (libraries) do or can. Further, we may not be big enough fish in the revenue stream for major content providers (i.e. HarperCollins) or even the third-party intermediaries (See Kelley, 2011 on the ongoing negotiations between the State of KS and OverDrive) to play ball with in terms of negotiating access to e-content in a way that’s advantageous to our institutions and mission. It is becoming increasingly apparent that we cannot survive as the “temple of the book” (Neiberger, 2009), and our attempts providing econtent thus far have only been so-so.

And yet the profession doesn’t seem to be taking notice of the changes around us, at least not in a dramatic way. In response to the HarperCollins situation, the ALA didn’t convene committees and research teams to figure out how to survive as relevant, vital institutions without the likes of HarperCollins. Instead, it’s focused on fighting a losing battle with them over content we can’t own anyway!

More locally, I recently attended the 2011 KLA conference, themed “Share the Vision.” While there was some interesting technology sessions, a whole virtual track for professionals who could not attend, and some great informal discussions of the impact of digital content on the field, the amount of e-content items on the agenda was next to none. The only ebooks related presentation was an introduction to the media, not a professional discussion on the nature or value of it. While I met some incredible people and had some great learning experiences, I did not see a “vision” for how libraries to move forward into the 21st century, at least with regards to our growing digital collections and their implications.

Library school doesn’t offer the answer either. My current MLS program, as good as it is and as much as I am enjoying it, offers a single elective focused on community engagement, while classes on traditional reference services and organizational systems are required, core courses. Maybe we are stuck in the past.

As a whole, we are not asking, “what else can we do? What other options exist?” Let’s look to the DOK Library Concept center in the Netherlands who are using cutting edge technology to build the kind of unique patron experiences (Boekesteijn, 2008) that would make Bell (2009). Closer to home, let’s look at Digital Media Lab at Skokie Public Library (Stephens, 2011) that’s trying to do the same right here in the Midwest.

No budget for a state of art media lab? We have other options! I’ve recently started a project looking at how libraries can build upon the social networking and Web 2.0 tools already used by their patrons to create unique content for library collections inexpensively (Howard, 2011). I don’t know how it will work yet, but I know that it is possible and that there are other people in the field who have the experience and know how to make this kind of project work. It’s not a matter of budget; it’s a matter of will power.

As a profession have to give up our vestments as keepers of the book temple and start figuring out how to keep our doors open as relevant, uniquely local institutions. As Hoenke (2011) pointed out, public libraries often have access to local historical and genealogical information that’s hard to come by anywhere else in our communities. Every public library has its own unique set of patrons, community needs, wants, and concerns that the library can help serve! How can we use these resources to once again become intensely local, community based organizations that are of unique value rather than free versions of the video store and amazon.com where you can also get free help with a government document or a job search? That’s not to say these other functions are not valuable, but in this era of budget cuts and intensifying competition, unless we can dynamically deliver a product or service that no other group or institution can, I firmly believe we will soon be going the way of Blockbuster and Borders – overrun by more relevant, proactive competitors.


Bell, S. (2009, August-September). From gatekeepers to gate-openers. American Libraries, 50-53.

Boekesteijn, E. (2008, April). Discover Innovations at DOK, Holand’s “Library Concept Center.” Marketing Library Services, 22(2). Retrieved from http://www.infotoday.com/mls/mar08/Boekesteijn.shtml

Hoenke, J. (2011, February 28). Thank you Harper Collins (for making the path forward a little clearer). Tame the Web. Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2011/02/28/thank-you-harper-collins-for-making-the-path-forward-a-little-clearer/

Howard, B. (2011, April). Patron-created content: Building digital collections without fear. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the Kansas Library Association, Topeka, KS.

Kelley, M. (2011, April 6). Kansas State Librarian Goes Eyeball to Eyeball with OverDrive in Contract Talks. Library Journal – LJXpress Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/newslettersnewsletterbucketljxpress/890089-441/kansas_state_librarian_goes_eyeball.html.csp

Neiburger, E. (2010, October 16). YouTube – Eli Neiburger at the LJ/SLJ eBook Summit: Libraries are Screwed, Unless… Part 2. Retrieved April 5, 2011, from http://youtu.be/KqAwj5ssU2c

Stephens, M. (2011, April 15). Stuck in the Past | Office Hours. Library Journal: Office Hours. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/communityopinion/889752-274/stuck_in_the_past_.html.csp

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1 Comment

Filed under Community Engagement, Marketing & Outreach, State of the Profession, Technology

One response to “Giving up the Temple Robes

  1. Thanks for reading my post! I really enjoyed reading yours!

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