Digital Transformation | Leadership | Strategy | Consulting | Speaking | Training - Adelaide, South Australia
future of the library

This morning I delivered a quick 15 minute presentation about the future of the library to the State Library of SA staff entitled: ‘The Library’s Digital Future’.

Here is the Prezi presentation…

And here is a transcript of the presentation:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

How many of you guys have ever taken an Uber?

What was your experience like?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Uber, it’s one of the latest innovations in the ‘sharing economy’.

The idea is that individuals with an existing asset – like a car or a home – can share that asset with others in return for a fee.

With Uber, anybody with a car can sign up to become an Uber driver and earn money by giving people lifts to where they want to go.

I’ve just returned from the US and I used both Uber and taxis in San Francisco.  The taxi fare from the airport to my downtown hotel was $60 USD.  

It was an old clapped out sedan that had seen better days, the driver had a hint of body odour, and he said nothing to me for the entire journey. At the end, the expectation was that I would pay him a tip, even though the service was nothing extraordinary.

On the return journey back to the airport, I took an Uber.  I used the Uber app on my phone to request a car and to nominate my destination. The app told me the cost of the fare and the expected time of arrival of the car.  


In two minutes, the car had arrived – a shiny, well maintained sedan driven by a jovial Lebanese engineer. We struck up a conversation about his Uber business and he explained that he had generated more income in a week than he had in a fortnight as a practising civil engineer.  He had recently thrown in his engineer job and took up Uber as his full time job.  He no longer stared at a computer screen all day, he was out in the sunshine and he was meeting new people – and he was making more money to boot.

When I got to the airport, I said goodbye and got out of the Uber – the payment is done electronically without any need to make payment at the destination.  No waiting for the EFTPOS machine to power up, no need to get an invoice, no tip calculations.  Just get out.

And the final cost – $25 USD.  Less than half the cost of the taxi and a thoroughly better experience for me as the customer.

These sorts of disruptive technologies are popping up all over the place.

In places like San Francisco there are hundreds of start up companies that are attempting to break down the old established ways of doing business in order to improve the experience for the end user

In doing so, many of them are butting heads with established businesses and pre-existing regulatory regimens – this is evident with Uber’s current stoush with the SA Government and the taxi lobby.  

Imagine if you paid $150K plus for a taxi licence and suddenly you’re expected to compete with car owners who pay no regulatory fees?

So what has this got to do with libraries?

We’re a public institution – we’re shielded from all this disruption stuff; we’re not here to make a profit, so we don’t need to worry about it – right?


The library is not immune to disruptive technologies.

Whilst we’re not being targeted like the taxi industry is by a disruptive entrant like Uber, we’re already being significantly impacted by the likes of Google, Apple, Netflix, Facebook and Wikipedia, among others.  

Books and content has long been the domain of the library.

But the way that people are consuming content is changing. Remember these guys….

Angus and Robertson
ABC Shop
Cassette tapes
Compact discs
Floppy disks
Video Ezy

Like Libraries, these were once great sources of content for consumers

Whilst all of these guys are going out of business, at the same time our core group members are getting older.

The average age of a member who borrowed a physical item from a Marion library in January this year is 51.

The average life expectancy of an Australian male is just over 80

In 30 years, as sad as it is, many of these people will be pushing up daisies.  The people who the libraries barely touch now – the 20-50 year olds – will have moved into the top age bracket – the age bracket which has traditionally delivered the biggest number of library users.

And these younger generations belong to a ‘new content paradigm’ – they’re consuming more content than ever before, but they are consuming in new places, cheaply, instantaneously and on demand whenever they want it:

Catch up TV – ABC iView
Streaming services – Netflix, Stan, Presto
Online music – iTunes, Spotify and Google Play Music
eBooks on the Amazon Kindle
Torrenting – Pirate Bay
Are the consumers of these new content services regularly visiting the library? The answer is no.

The simple fact is that the library is competing against these guys when it comes to content delivery.  And they typically do it much better than we do.

Who uses Netflix?  How good is it!

Where libraries can win this fight is by reinventing themselves.

It used to be all about ‘books’ – but we’re not really in that business anymore.

Where the library brings the most value is by building community and connecting people with the most appropriate content and resources, regardless of where that content exists.

In this way, the librarian is the curator, the connector, the facilitator and the teacher.

The librarian is a person who fosters learning, engagement and excitement through diverse programs, makerspaces, coding clubs, community groups, local history initiatives, digital literacy training etc.  

The librarian must no longer just be a storeperson overseeing a collection of dead books.

We don’t want any more shhhhing librarians

The good news is that the librarian’s role as curator, connector, facilitator and teacher is greatly enhanced by the host of new digital technologies that they have at their disposal.

It’s my job to set down a digital pathway for the library network, so that we can reposition ourselves and improve the relevance of the library to those who will become our customers of tomorrow.

I leave you with this from Seth Godin, which was written back in 2011:

Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.

We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *