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

In early September 2017, I delivered two presentations to the Public Libraries Western Australia conference at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

The first of the presentations was entitled ‘The Future of the Public Library: from dusty tomes to disruptive technologies’.

You will find the slides and a transcript of the presentation below:

Transcript of Presentation

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s fantastic to be here. Thank you very much for inviting me along.

To give you some context as to why I am here…I currently work at the City of Adelaide as the Manager of Marketing and Communications, but I’ve had a bit of history of working with libraries and books.

I spent some time last year working with Public Libraries of South Australia developing a digital strategy for the library network.

 I also founded an online bookstore, Boomerang Books, way back in 2002, which continues to operate today.

The bottom line is: I love books and libraries. And I love coming to these conferences. So thank you for having me

I thought maybe we could watch a video up front? I reckon that every good presentation begins with a video…

So I’m going to show you this eight minute video about The Hunt Library in North Carolina in the United States – some of you may have seen it before.

It goes for 8 minutes, so settle back and enjoy…



ADVERTISEMENT



VIDEO – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzL8MHbBtiY

All of your libraries over here in the West are like that one, right?

SLIDE

The final quote from the video…

“I hope the library… is known as a place of excellence, and a place of passion, and ideas and vision. You can’t be in this building and not think that something is happening at this university” – Ms Nutter

I’m going to come back to Ms Nutter’s quote later on.

SLIDE

How many of you guys have used an Uber? Hands up please.

What was your experience like? It was good, right?

Did you know that Perth is the first city in Australia where Uber is more popular than taxis?

Almost one in four people in Perth have taken an Uber. In my home town of Adelaide, only 10% have tried Uber, because we’re a little backward over there and not anywhere near as progressive as you are here in the West.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Uber – and I’m guessing that there aren’t too many Ubers getting around Port Hedland and Karratha, if you’re from the country – the idea is that car-owners can provide ‘ride sharing’ services – they can “monetize” their asset by providing others with vehicle transport.

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

Has anybody signed up to be an Uber driver to supplement their library salary? ….Clearly we’re paying librarians too much

So, the first Uber that I took was in San Francisco in the US about two years ago now.

A travelling companion and I used both taxis and Uber in San Francisco.

At San Francisco airport, we headed to the taxi rank and we were presented with the finest array of taxis that San Francisco has to offer.

SLIDE

This may or may not be an accurate representation of the actual taxi that we took, but you get the picture.  

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 us for the entire journey.

At the end of the journey, the expectation was that we would pay him a tip, even though the service was very ordinary.

And the total fare to our downtown hotel – around $60 USD for a 15km trip

On the return journey back to the airport, we 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.

SLIDE 

Within two minutes, the car had arrived – once again, this may or may not be a 100% accurate representation of the actual car that arrived. But you get the picture.

The car was 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 and about, and he was meeting new people – and he was making more money to boot.

When we got to the airport, we 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 us as customers.

Now the taxi companies are up in arms over this – for decades they’ve had a monopoly in a highly regulated marketplace. Many taxi licence owners pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the right to own a taxi.  All of a sudden their licences are worth next to nothing, as Uber whittles away at their business.

Ultimately the consumer will decide who wins. The taxi industry failed to keep pace with consumer needs and, in time, and it stands to be decimated by new entrants that are focused on delivering the very best possible experience to the customer.

SLIDE

So what has this got to do with libraries?

We’re a public institution, we get funded by government – 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?

Well, that’s clearly not the case.

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’ve already been significantly impacted by the likes of Google, Apple, Netflix, Facebook and Wikipedia, among others.  

Books and content have long been the mainstay of the library.

But the way that people are consuming books and content is changing.

SLIDE

Remember these guys….

Angus and Robertson and Borders – not to mention every second independent bookstore around Australia that has shut up shop

Cleo and Cosmopolitan magazines – whilst not a reader of those magazines myself, they’re no longer available in printed format

ABC Shop – it was the only shop that I was interested in visiting at my local Westfield Shoppingtown

Physical media – DVDs / Cassette tapes / Compact discs / Floppy disks

Video Ezy and Blockbuster – does anybody rent videos anymore?

Newspapers – mastheads all around the world are closing; Fairfax and News Corp are slashing staff like there’s no tomorrow; and we’re not far away from one of our major newspapers, probably The Melbourne Age, ceasing to publish a printed daily newspaper

Like Libraries, all these were once important sources of content for consumers and they’ve all been impacted heavily by disruptive forces

SLIDE

Whilst all of these guys are going out of business, at the same time our population is getting older and so too is the demographic that uses our libraries.

We pulled some data when I was working at Public Library Services SA

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

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

In 30 years, as sad as it is, many of our current users will be pushing up daisies.  

The people who the libraries have difficulty engaging 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.

SLIDE

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, SBS On Demand, Freeview

Social media – YouTube, WordPress blogs, Twitter

Online streaming services – Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Play

Online music – iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music

eBooks on the Amazon Kindle

Audio books – through Audible

Torrenting – Pirate Bay – hands up everybody who has torrented before?

Yes, Pornhub is up there….pornography remains the second most popular activity on the web after social media…but obviously that doesn’t apply to anybody here in this room today.  Librarians are squeaky clean when it comes to that stuff, right?

SLIDE

Are the consumers of these new content services regularly visiting the library to get content? In many cases, the answer is no.

The simple fact is that the library is competing against these guys when it comes to content delivery.  And just like Uber trumps taxis, these content providers typically do it much better than we do.

Any Netflix user can tell you that it’s just so easy to use – everything that you could ever want is right there at your fingertips, and whilst there’s a cost, it’s not that significant.

So, that begs the question – should the library compete in the world of content provision?? Should the library hold true to its traditional role as a provider of books.

SLIDE

Let’s revisit that quote from Ms Nutter:

“I hope the library… is known as a place of excellence, and a place of passion, and ideas and vision. You can’t be in this building and not think that something is happening at this university”

Excellence, passion, ideas, vision….no mention of books

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

SLIDE

The fact is that ‘books’ are just TOOLS to achieve something deeper.  And that is….COMMUNITY

Books and libraries are just TOOLS to build COMMUNITY.  

Your role as librarians is not to lend out books; it’s to be society’s glue; to foster the growth of your community through whatever mechanism is available to you.  

And the printed book is just one tool that allows you to do that. New technologies – 3D printers, fast WI-FI, virtual reality goggles, makerspaces, coding clubs – similarly are other tools that enable libraries to build community.

SLIDE

The digital stuff is going to become more central to the library’s offering. I think we all know that.

Digital technology is pervasive through society, we all carry these smartphones around wherever we go, and the younger generations have only ever known a world where digital technology is universally available.

They’re digital natives. My 8-year old daughter has two YouTube channels, which scares the living daylights out of me.  When faced with a choice between an internet-connected tablet and a book, which one do you think she’s likely to to reach for?

SLIDE

So what does the future of the library look like…

It’s no surprise that as time goes on, we are going to see increased use in remote services and a tipping of the balance in favour of digital content, away from physical content.

I rarely set foot in my local library, but I read heaps of free eBooks via OverDrive. There’s such an opportunity here for reaching that elusive group – the 20-50 year olds – who are just too busy with their lives to physically get to the library. 

This is where the Netflixes of the world are winning the war but there’s no reason why the library can’t just have a virtual relationship with its members. Even the on-boarding process can be done remotely these days.

These virtual memberships will be serviced through much more user-centric web interfaces and applications, designed principally for use on mobile devices.

In time, I am sure that we will see a single state-wide public library consortium model – perhaps we’ll even see a nation-wide library.  Our collective catalogues – whether physical or electronic – will be made available through a central, unified search interface. No need to login separately to OverDrive, Civica, Sirsidynix, Bolinda, Zinio, Lynda or any of the multitude of systems that we force people to use – it’ll all be in the one place.

The user interface will be designed from the customer’s perspective. It will be simple, accessible and personalised, drawing on previous borrowing history to deliver custom recommendations, in much the same way that Amazon has been doing for years.

If you’ve borrowed a Tim Winton book before, it will display other Tim Winton titles that you might like right there on the home page – you’ve read Breath, great, why not try Cloudstreet or Dirt Music next?

Who knows….in time, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning may automatically dispatch my next true crime book to me via drone delivery at the very moment I finish reading the previous book. All of this is possible today!

In some cases, all of this may actually come to fruition before your council permits you to have your own library Facebook Page. Anybody still in this boat?

In the library itself, we’ll see some significant changes. Libraries won’t be chock full of bookshelves as many are today. There won’t be a magazines, CD or DVD section. The library will be all about ‘spaces’. Digital kiosks, RFID scanners and beacon technology will help people to find what they’re looking and to ‘checkout’ without any human intervention. Virtual reality, robotics, coding, makerspaces, co-working facilities will be the norm. And to facilitate all this there will be blisteringly fast internet access.

SLIDE

Regardless of what tools are used to engage with the community – whether it’s a good old-fashioned hardcopy book or a set of Virtual Reality goggles, it’s the role that librarians play, and what the library represents that’s important.

The librarian can no longer just be a storeperson overseeing a collection of dead books. We don’t need experts in the Dewey Decimal System. We don’t want any more shushing librarians with hair buns pushing book trolleys.

What we need are curators, connectors, facilitators and teachers.

The most fundamental change will not be some new groundbreaking gadget, high speed wifi, or some whizzbang app or piece of software.  

The most fundamental change will be in the thinking of the library, its people, its culture, the role of the librarian and its emphasis on ‘community’.

If the library is to remain relevant well into the future, its collective mindset needs to align with wider changes in society. Books and digital technology are great tools to help it succeed in its mission – but they are not an end in themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for having me, the conference schedule looks fantastic, and I look forward to chatting to you all over the next two days.

SLIDE

I leave you with this from marketing guru 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.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s fantastic to be here. Thank you very much for inviting me along.

To give you some context as to why I am here…I currently work at the City of Adelaide as the Manager of Marketing and Communications, but I’ve had a bit of history of working with libraries and books.

I spent some time last year working with Public Libraries of South Australia developing a digital strategy for the library network.

 I also founded an online bookstore, Boomerang Books, way back in 2002, which continues to operate today.

The bottom line is: I love books and libraries. And I love coming to these conferences. So thank you for having me

I thought maybe we could watch a video up front? I reckon that every good presentation begins with a video…

So I’m going to show you this eight minute video about The Hunt Library in North Carolina in the United States – some of you may have seen it before.

It goes for 8 minutes, so settle back and enjoy…

VIDEO – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzL8MHbBtiY

All of your libraries over here in the West are like that one, right?

SLIDE

The final quote from the video…

“I hope the library… is known as a place of excellence, and a place of passion, and ideas and vision. You can’t be in this building and not think that something is happening at this university” – Ms Nutter

I’m going to come back to Ms Nutter’s quote later on.

SLIDE

How many of you guys have used an Uber? Hands up please.

What was your experience like? It was good, right?

Did you know that Perth is the first city in Australia where Uber is more popular than taxis?

Almost one in four people in Perth have taken an Uber. In my home town of Adelaide, only 10% have tried Uber, because we’re a little backward over there and not anywhere near as progressive as you are here in the West.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Uber – and I’m guessing that there aren’t too many Ubers getting around Port Hedland and Karratha, if you’re from the country – the idea is that car-owners can provide ‘ride sharing’ services – they can “monetize” their asset by providing others with vehicle transport.

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

Has anybody signed up to be an Uber driver to supplement their library salary? ….Clearly we’re paying librarians too much

So, the first Uber that I took was in San Francisco in the US about two years ago now.

A travelling companion and I used both taxis and Uber in San Francisco.

At San Francisco airport, we headed to the taxi rank and we were presented with the finest array of taxis that San Francisco has to offer.

SLIDE

This may or may not be an accurate representation of the actual taxi that we took, but you get the picture.  

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 us for the entire journey.

At the end of the journey, the expectation was that we would pay him a tip, even though the service was very ordinary.

And the total fare to our downtown hotel – around $60 USD for a 15km trip

On the return journey back to the airport, we 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.

SLIDE 

Within two minutes, the car had arrived – once again, this may or may not be a 100% accurate representation of the actual car that arrived. But you get the picture.

The car was 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 and about, and he was meeting new people – and he was making more money to boot.

When we got to the airport, we 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 us as customers.

Now the taxi companies are up in arms over this – for decades they’ve had a monopoly in a highly regulated marketplace. Many taxi licence owners pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the right to own a taxi.  All of a sudden their licences are worth next to nothing, as Uber whittles away at their business.

Ultimately the consumer will decide who wins. The taxi industry failed to keep pace with consumer needs and, in time, and it stands to be decimated by new entrants that are focused on delivering the very best possible experience to the customer.

SLIDE

So what has this got to do with libraries?

We’re a public institution, we get funded by government – 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?

Well, that’s clearly not the case.

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’ve already been significantly impacted by the likes of Google, Apple, Netflix, Facebook and Wikipedia, among others.  

Books and content have long been the mainstay of the library.

But the way that people are consuming books and content is changing.

SLIDE

Remember these guys….

Angus and Robertson and Borders – not to mention every second independent bookstore around Australia that has shut up shop

Cleo and Cosmopolitan magazines – whilst not a reader of those magazines myself, they’re no longer available in printed format

ABC Shop – it was the only shop that I was interested in visiting at my local Westfield Shoppingtown

Physical media – DVDs / Cassette tapes / Compact discs / Floppy disks

Video Ezy and Blockbuster – does anybody rent videos anymore?

Newspapers – mastheads all around the world are closing; Fairfax and News Corp are slashing staff like there’s no tomorrow; and we’re not far away from one of our major newspapers, probably The Melbourne Age, ceasing to publish a printed daily newspaper

Like Libraries, all these were once important sources of content for consumers and they’ve all been impacted heavily by disruptive forces

SLIDE

Whilst all of these guys are going out of business, at the same time our population is getting older and so too is the demographic that uses our libraries.

We pulled some data when I was working at Public Library Services SA

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

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

In 30 years, as sad as it is, many of our current users will be pushing up daisies.  

The people who the libraries have difficulty engaging 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.

SLIDE

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, SBS On Demand, Freeview

Social media – YouTube, WordPress blogs, Twitter

Online streaming services – Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Play

Online music – iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music

eBooks on the Amazon Kindle

Audio books – through Audible

Torrenting – Pirate Bay – hands up everybody who has torrented before?

Yes, Pornhub is up there….pornography remains the second most popular activity on the web after social media…but obviously that doesn’t apply to anybody here in this room today.  Librarians are squeaky clean when it comes to that stuff, right?

SLIDE

Are the consumers of these new content services regularly visiting the library to get content? In many cases, the answer is no.

The simple fact is that the library is competing against these guys when it comes to content delivery.  And just like Uber trumps taxis, these content providers typically do it much better than we do.

Any Netflix user can tell you that it’s just so easy to use – everything that you could ever want is right there at your fingertips, and whilst there’s a cost, it’s not that significant.

So, that begs the question – should the library compete in the world of content provision?? Should the library hold true to its traditional role as a provider of books.

SLIDE

Let’s revisit that quote from Ms Nutter:

“I hope the library… is known as a place of excellence, and a place of passion, and ideas and vision. You can’t be in this building and not think that something is happening at this university”

Excellence, passion, ideas, vision….no mention of books

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

SLIDE

The fact is that ‘books’ are just TOOLS to achieve something deeper.  And that is….COMMUNITY

Books and libraries are just TOOLS to build COMMUNITY.  

Your role as librarians is not to lend out books; it’s to be society’s glue; to foster the growth of your community through whatever mechanism is available to you.  

And the printed book is just one tool that allows you to do that. New technologies – 3D printers, fast WI-FI, virtual reality goggles, makerspaces, coding clubs – similarly are other tools that enable libraries to build community.

SLIDE

The digital stuff is going to become more central to the library’s offering. I think we all know that.

Digital technology is pervasive through society, we all carry these smartphones around wherever we go, and the younger generations have only ever known a world where digital technology is universally available.

They’re digital natives. My 8-year old daughter has two YouTube channels, which scares the living daylights out of me.  When faced with a choice between an internet-connected tablet and a book, which one do you think she’s likely to to reach for?

SLIDE

So what does the future of the library look like…

It’s no surprise that as time goes on, we are going to see increased use in remote services and a tipping of the balance in favour of digital content, away from physical content.

I rarely set foot in my local library, but I read heaps of free eBooks via OverDrive. There’s such an opportunity here for reaching that elusive group – the 20-50 year olds – who are just too busy with their lives to physically get to the library. 

This is where the Netflixes of the world are winning the war but there’s no reason why the library can’t just have a virtual relationship with its members. Even the on-boarding process can be done remotely these days.

These virtual memberships will be serviced through much more user-centric web interfaces and applications, designed principally for use on mobile devices.

In time, I am sure that we will see a single state-wide public library consortium model – perhaps we’ll even see a nation-wide library.  Our collective catalogues – whether physical or electronic – will be made available through a central, unified search interface. No need to login separately to OverDrive, Civica, Sirsidynix, Bolinda, Zinio, Lynda or any of the multitude of systems that we force people to use – it’ll all be in the one place.

The user interface will be designed from the customer’s perspective. It will be simple, accessible and personalised, drawing on previous borrowing history to deliver custom recommendations, in much the same way that Amazon has been doing for years.

If you’ve borrowed a Tim Winton book before, it will display other Tim Winton titles that you might like right there on the home page – you’ve read Breath, great, why not try Cloudstreet or Dirt Music next?

Who knows….in time, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning may automatically dispatch my next true crime book to me via drone delivery at the very moment I finish reading the previous book. All of this is possible today!

In some cases, all of this may actually come to fruition before your council permits you to have your own library Facebook Page. Anybody still in this boat?

In the library itself, we’ll see some significant changes. Libraries won’t be chock full of bookshelves as many are today. There won’t be a magazines, CD or DVD section. The library will be all about ‘spaces’. Digital kiosks, RFID scanners and beacon technology will help people to find what they’re looking and to ‘checkout’ without any human intervention. Virtual reality, robotics, coding, makerspaces, co-working facilities will be the norm. And to facilitate all this there will be blisteringly fast internet access.

SLIDE

Regardless of what tools are used to engage with the community – whether it’s a good old-fashioned hardcopy book or a set of Virtual Reality goggles, it’s the role that librarians play, and what the library represents that’s important.

The librarian can no longer just be a storeperson overseeing a collection of dead books. We don’t need experts in the Dewey Decimal System. We don’t want any more shushing librarians with hair buns pushing book trolleys.

What we need are curators, connectors, facilitators and teachers.

The most fundamental change will not be some new groundbreaking gadget, high speed wifi, or some whizzbang app or piece of software.  

The most fundamental change will be in the thinking of the library, its people, its culture, the role of the librarian and its emphasis on ‘community’.

If the library is to remain relevant well into the future, its collective mindset needs to align with wider changes in society. Books and digital technology are great tools to help it succeed in its mission – but they are not an end in themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for having me, the conference schedule looks fantastic, and I look forward to chatting to you all over the next two days.

SLIDE

I leave you with this from marketing guru 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 *