Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Beyond books and buildings: Always-on libraries

You'll find more questions than answers, but plenty of food for thought, in this First Monday article on Libraries in a world of permanent connectivity by Lorcan Dempsey, vice president for research and chief strategist of OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center.

(First Monday is an online peer-reviewed journal about the Internet and related topics. It requires no library-database subscription to view its full-text and heavily linked essays. Check out other articles in the latest issue.)

Dempsey puts together an extensive review of devices, software and services that have changed our use of communication and information over time and space, complete with an array of Web links to services from Twitter to Boopsie.

"As mobile communications diffuse networking into more of what we do, it reconfigures our relationship with time, space and other people, just as earlier networks did. Affordable air transport shortened the distance between home and college; now they are a phone call or text apart. Selective social networks live alongside face–to–face interaction in new ways. For example, individual students may participate in multiple communicating groups: short–term as in a particular class on a particular day, or longer term as with family or old school friends."

So where does "the library" fit in this new comm/info world? Library services have changed dramatically in the past 10 years, at least at the university libraries I've used in that time, but Dempsey hints that the institutional image may not be keeping up with its services.

"The library needs a brand which is meaningful and engaging, which communicates its value, and which transcends the caricatural impression many have based around the building and print collections," Dempsey says.

Maybe next to the "No one knows you're a dog on the Internet" cartoon, we need one that says, "No one has to say 'shhhh' in a digital library"?

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