My understanding of this context for these readings, for this course, is summed up by Brian Mathews in Think Like a Startup (2012) with:
“The media and pop culture provide us with romanticized visions of dorm room ideas becoming billion dollar IPOs. And indeed, that does happen sometimes, but startups are more than rags to riches stories. In concise terms: startups are organizations dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This sounds exactly like an academic library to me. Not only are we trying to survive, but we’re also trying to transform our organizations into a viable service for 21st century scholars and learners.”
Social changes have led to a greater demand in multifaceted information computing and management. For centuries, every developing society has recorded information into or on a form of document. One of my favorite and popular examples is the Library of Alexandria which is written about as if it was Atlantis but rather than being drowned into the deep mysteries of the ocean, it was instead ravaged and burned to ashes. It’s less myth than cultural heritage and marks a zenith for classical libraria (I just made up this word. I like it.)
Today’s libraries aren’t so much vulnerable to flames and whirlpools as they are to digital viruses and information corruption, oh – and electricity outages. Ancient texts were made of paper and carried around as “mobile” documents with integrated frameworks and systems for transfer of information. Those artifacts are still made and used today in the context of libraries and education, however, you might think of entire libraries as “mobile” since so many of us have technologies which act as brain dendrites, or more fantastically, the arms of an octopus. Octopi are my favorite animal, my spirit animal, for so many reasons. Their brains are a mystery: They run on a decentralized nervous system, two-thirds of which is distributed in the eight arms and legs, away from the central brain. This is the way I understand today’s libraries. Their isn’t one single source of their services and resources. There are main libraries which operate some of the system, then there are branches which cumulatively are responsible for more information making (i.e., maker spaces), curation, management, and dissemination. But there’s more, and maybe this is where the octopus metaphor ends. Mobile devices, which are almost every computer device consumer uses today, are their own library systems and they provide a handle for close-touch information experiences. The progression is quite clear to me: libraries – to – home computing – to — mobile computing – to – cloud computing – to implanted and cybernetic computing.
But back to my original thought – how new libraries survive and thrive the startup culture of that began in the wonderful 1990’s. Libraries are mobile now. Their systems work remotely and locally. To survive, libraries must evolve the ways in which they serve as hubs for information activity. I really want libraries to survive as maker spaces, and maybe they will. But I don’t conceptualize today’s maker-space libraries as authentic libraries because that definition is centuries old and has a far stricter vocabulary of defining elements. If I’m being honest, libraries have lost their once classical appeal.
I miss the days when libraries had just books and pictures – I miss the paper of it all! Yes, I’m a complete romantic when it comes to the history of Virginia and Lenard Woolf’s in-house printing press and publishing company (which was really a startup in that context). I miss the QUIET that was not too long ago guaranteed by librarians and the culture of libraries. When I visit my local library in Willow Glen, and I try to study and write, I’m constantly under a barrage of distraction from the public sharing my space. I don’t feel like I have a space, a private space for a private act (as Jeanette Winterson always says: reading is a private act. When you read, your thoughts are shared with no one else, and they aren’t recorded by the FBI or Google. Your thoughts can be your secret, which is a precious commodity in the era of crawlers and insidiously corrupt cultures such as the Chinese who monitor and censure all information that they can). I stopped visiting the local library because I couldn’t get anything done. It was like being on a public transit train (I lived in NYC for ten years) and trying to read and write poetry. I did try this. I did fail.
I’m sounding too grim and fatalistic. I will say that academic libraries continue with the long-standing traditions that I miss. And although I can’t get any reading or writing done at my local library anymore, I can take my nine year-old nephew to reading groups and socialize him with other children in the wonderful context of interactive little learners. Also, I’ve read that sewing classes may become available at my library, and I’ve just begun that hobby. So there are indeed facets of the “new library” that I like and take advantage of. But again, I don’t consider them libraries anymore. They are community maker spaces now. I sincerely hope that academic libraries do not follow the same course. I consider them sacred spaces – I always have. It will be interesting to see what they look like in ten years. Will digitization of articles and books and other artifacts replace the printed page? Will students have any reason to visit their college MLIS or Psychology libraries when all the databases that they need for their work is available through library portals?
I’ve begun collecting my own books and make private library of my own. I’m never going to digitize it.