Yesterday I found myself in the New York Public Library researching a book. My own reactions surprised me and made me wonder about (a) the future of libraries (b) content business opportunities.
Here were my reactions, in order.
- Wow, I forgot how beautiful this library is.
- Man, this librarian is so helpful. I would love it if I could be here everyday and ask her questions.
- Jeez, it is SO inconvenient to have to fill out this slip and wait for a book to appear from the stacks.
- Wait, the book isn’t digitized?
- Wait WAIT, you mean I have to sit here and use this resource? I can’t check this book out?
EeeGads, I am a spoiled internet-era brat!
The last reaction was particularly disturbing. A Spoiled Internet Era Brat (SIEB) expects all content to be digitized and to be available at her fingertips through the internet. Contrary to popular belief, a SIEB does *not* expect the content to be free. An SIEB expects the content to be free if and only if it is not unique and is easily available elsewhere.
But the cost-benefit ratio is just not there for libraries to invest in digitizing all of their content. Google, as we know, is trying. But, honestly, is Google going to be able to reach into the stacks of the NY Public Library and digitize a rare book on middle-eastern folklore? Well, maybe. Who am I to question the power of Google? They want to “catalogue all human knowlege.” My guess, however, is that the library structure, organizational system, and the librarian herself, provide a critical framework that makes “all human knowledge” intelligible to the average human.
I wonder, therefore, if there is a business opportunity being missed by the NYPL and other, especially big, institutions.
Read tomorrow for the business opportunity…