Libraries used to be the place to go for free information. We no longer have a monopoly on that. The web now allows people people to freely access information from nearly anywhere at anytime. So what do libraries do now? What’s the purpose of libraries?
In a recent blog post from In the Library With the Lead Pipe I came across this quote:
“The nature of libraries has changed enormously. The physical building is less important. Books are less important. Due to these changes libraries will become obsolete in today’s current market where information needs are created and fulfilled by (my favorite “frenemies”) Google and Facebook. People purchase books from Amazon, they read blogs, wikis and other online commercial (and non-commercial) information sources. But libraries have what they don’t and we need to let our users know this. We have the ability to be in our communities, to engage them and offer specific targeted services. Our engagement with our communities can be the defining aspect of what a library is to any given community…”
I like this. Being able to engage our community is what libraries are offering. Google doesn’t sit with you for 45 minutes to answer a difficult reference question, tailoring the information perfectly to your problem. Amazon doesn’t read to your children or “kindle” in them a lifelong love of learning. Libraries are a part of their communities, and as such, can create a customized experience for their users. And this is what I think libraries need to be focusing on: the experience.
The very perceptive Steven Bell recently wrote an article in American Libraries entitled From Gatekeepers to Gate-Openers. He argues that “our future lies in designing meaningful library user experiences.”
“Pre-Starbucks there was no coffee experience; most retailers sold nearly identical or indistinguishable coffee products at a similar price. Starbucks created an entirely different approach to selling coffee that focused on the quality of the beverage and the ambience of the location. Certainly offering new coffee drinks to the American public created some differentiation, but the crucial factor was the experience of the Starbucks store: It was about more than just buying coffee.”
The library is more than just access to free information. We no longer have a monopoly on that, but we still offer a certain way for users to experience and interact with information. We are in their communities and know their needs better than a web service does. We are perfectly positioned to create an experience that keeps patrons coming back for more and telling their friends.
I want people to say “yeah, I could go to Google, but I just love going to the library so much. It’s my favorite way to get information.” This may be a bit “pie in the sky” thinking, but that’s what we’re looking for — creating a great information experience.
How do we do that? I’m not quite there yet. I’ve been thinking a lot about it though, and something’s brewing. When it percolates I’ll share.
What do you think? How can we make people love their experience at the library?