Monday, 8 September 2008

The free Web and the future of libraries

In addition to the excellent Social Media Wave 3 Research, Universal McCann also offers a fascinating report on Free Internet Services.

Libraries have benefited enormously from the growth in free platforms [Blogger], search engines [Google], web mail [gmail], web based software [Google Docs], and content [Google Scholar and Google Books]. As an aside, in case your wondering I have deliberately only mentioned Google offerings. See Google takes over the world for the reason why.

Indeed the emergence of Web 2.0 / social media, and therefore Library 2.0, would not have been possible without the advent of these types of free services. As a result, we have become dependent on (and possibly addicted to) free stuff. To quote the Universal McCann report:

"Over the last decade we've become increasingly used to getting something for nothing. Massive advances in the technologies that underpin the Internet, in particular processing power, digital storage and broadband have provided the means to develop and distribute rich content and complex services to anyone for virtually zero cost."

While the Universal McCann report focuses on the business and marketing opportunities of the free web, this is still an important topic for libraries. I suspect that along with the many obvious benefits the free web has given us there are also dangers and risks. Within the higher education sector, the recent Ithaka Studies of Key Stakeholders in the Digital Transformation in Higher Education report suggests that there is a "growing ambivalence about the campus library among faculty members as more and more knowledge goes digital".

Unsettling though this is, why should we be surprised? After all, if people can get what they want quickly and freely from the web why would they stay loyal to libraries? As librarians we like to think we provide a better service than what is freely available on the Web, and indeed we often do, but this will not help us if we can't communicate and demonstrate this in a tangible way to clients. And don't forget Ross Dawson has us down for extinction by 2019, for details see

It is time to get cracking. There is more and more free web stuff out there, so there are even more opportunities as well as more dangers and threats for libraries to consider.


Polyxena said...

I wonder what it means? 2019 Libraries extinct. What's the definition? Shelves of musty old books? Monastic libraries like eg in the Name of the rose. Libraries like Alexandria which in fact was very much about an intellectual community as well as collections of MSS. And we think libraries building communities is a new-fangled concept. Video libraries? E-libraries? Libraries as navigators? Libraries as gateways? Maybe I need to find my Canfora: it's been a long time since I read that title, but I do remember enough about libraries in antiquity to remember that they were always very much about community. Perhaps a very elite community to be sure.

Speaking for myself I think now is a very exciting time to be working in libraries and that the future is also exciting. But then I have always been a change junkie. Sure thing the world will be different in 2019 - and so it should.

Bibliothekia said...

"I think now is a very exciting time to be working in libraries and that the future is also exciting... Sure thing the world will be different in 2019". I couldn't agree more. I would like to think that Ross is saying you will be extinct if you don't change. This said, we can't take change or reinvention for granted. It is something we should always be thinking about. Personally, I like Joseph Schumpeter's theory of Creative Destruction especially as it is linked in with entrepreneurship.