Ending [blank] As We Know IT

I can’t tell you how much this expression drives me nuts. It has become a tag line for change, when someone doesn’t want change. That will end Social Security as we know it. Don’t trust him, he wants to end Medicare as we know it. Shut up already. EVERYTHING ends “as we know it”. Health insurance (not health “Care” which hasn’t changed at all) ended “as we know it” with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Medicare, with the passage of the prescription drug benefit ended “as we know it.” A person’s life ends “as we know it” when they get married. The reason it ends “as we know it” is because any change inherently leads to something which we can’t know with a high degree of specificity.  But that doesn’t make it bad.

I have to say that as of today, I think that Libraries must end as we know them. I will bet that you will agree this is not a bad thing. I only know one librarian, and I am curious if she will agree.  KB-B?

Haley has a research paper assignment for school. One of the things I like about the way schools are handling the onslaught of easy access via the Internet, is that they often make kids utilize one book as part of their bibliography. Haley chose to do research on Leonardo Da Vinci, arguably one of the most influential artists and inventors of the Renaissance. So I honestly did not feel much of a sense of urgency in finding a book at the local library, due tomorrow. Now I don’t fault the library here, but we couldn’t find one single (non children’s) book about this very famous person. We asked for help, we ran searches, we even used the new cataloging system. [Spoiler alert – the Dewey Decimal system is slowly being replaced] I found this both preposterous and disappointing.

Like I said, I don’t think this is the library’s fault. Between fiction and non-fiction, maintaining inventory for every possible nugget of information that has ever been assembled, is impossible. Physical books are just too cumbersome, labor intensive and expensive to maintain at the smaller libraries.  After we got home a B&N search yielded some possibilities, though since I can’t actually thumb through the books, I have no idea what will really work for Haley and I will have to pay $11.99 to resolve just one option at the top of the list.

In my opinion the basic premise of the library boils down to three things:

  1. Proximity to consumers
  2. Perpetual availability of physical objects (books)
  3. Professional curation of literature

In the Internet age, is the physical structure of a library really the best way to do this stuff?  I like being the old-fogey and make Haley run a search and then find the book on the shelves, but I have to admit, I’d like to see the notion of Library change.

Proximity – Is there anything more convenient than a device in your house with an almost endless capacity to consume data from anywhere in the solar system (if you include satellite imagery, I don’t think I am exaggerating)

Perpetual Availability – I think we have backups figured out by now, so realistically there is no need to worry about losing data anymore.  And the tree-hugger in me would like to use less paper.  Kindle and Nook have created a physical experience that is actually better than the paper-printed word.  But we need to do better with speed, search, connectivity, and compatibility- that should be the easy stuff.

Professional Curation – And here is where I think we really need to change our theoretical approach the least, but it will have the most effect.  Much of the internet is complete shit.  If you want political news, you can’t search for the subject or you end up with some crap blog that scraped a real story, filtered it to a partisan whim and then publishes it as though it were unbiased truth.  I pick a major news outlet and search its site directly.  As of today, Jason Calacanis who tried to do curated search with Mahalo before the Panda update, released Inside.com which is curated news.  They employ professionals whose job it is to find the best content for news (from ALL sources), summarize it, and provide links back to the source.  He calls it “Pandora for news.”  Libraries are content distributors for researched facts.  Librarians are the curators, and they are indispensible.  I just think they are putting their talents to bear in the wrong place.

Side note = I’d like to focus on non-fiction, because I think the very notion of fiction lends itself to better curation via the social channels (twitter, facebook, tumblr).  In addition, the form factor and distribution problems are already being solved quite well by Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

How often do you search for something and find a Wikipedia page that may or may not be trustworthy.  Those guys have gotten better in the past few years and their source linking is pretty good, but still.  If all the best research is being published in books, why shouldn’t we have a better source and better curated system of distribution for all of this great content?

Imagine a librarian, who might actually edit the Wikipedia page, expert in a subject area, whose job it is to curate all the best thinking about that subject.  You seek out the librarian to help you understand the subject in the level of detail that is pertinent to you.

I have no idea what we spend on libraries and librarians, but I can only dream about how much better my research experience could be if we were to deploy that human and infrastructure capital in a more efficient manner.  I’m sure the perfect 5th grade level Leonardo Da Vinci book is out there somewhere; it would be nice if someone could have helped me with that… and it was on Haley’s Nook right now.

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About Josh Rutstein

I am an aspiring entrepreneur and hopeful political candidate. Father of 2 very special girls and passionate American. I snowboard whenever possible and follow a 20x mentality for exercise. I also play golf and ultimate frisbee and am a die hard New England Patriots fan and season ticket holder. Everyday I wake up wanting to make this country a better place, someday I hope to actually succeed.
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