You know that feeling when somebody belittles your profession? I know most of my theatre peeps know that feeling – “actors are dumb”, “theatre isn’t a real major”, etc…My technical theatre mentors who taught me everything I know about rigging, power tools, drafting, painting, prop building, the works…I understand why they despised anyone who used the term “techie” to describe a technical professional.
This was all sparked when a friend of mine sent me a message:
“Hey. So I recently read through your blog and saw that you have a Masters in Library Science. I figured you would be the right person to come to. For an assignment in my Entrepreneurship class, I was suppose to find an outdated industry that has not innovated in the last 10-20 years and provide 5 ways to improve its productivity, profitability, etc. I have proven to my professor that no such industry exists, given his criteria, and if it does, it is an obsolete industry that does not need to be improved but either changed radically or phased out entirely.
Anyway, he has given up on me and says I can choose any industry to try to improve and ignore the criteria. I decided to pick the Library industry (well, I’m assuming its an industry) especially since he thinks they are obsolete (I really just want to p*ss him off even more). I know many people are thinking this, but I feel libraries can still offer a lot. I would like to know your thoughts on it. What ways do you think libraries can try to improve to get people to come back? And well, can the library system really be considered an industry?”
Let me tell you something, professor “libraries aren’t an industry”…you’re wrong. Libraries are an industry. Libraries have innovated in the last few decades. Libraries are NOT obsolete.
Libraries have a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code of 8231 and are grouped under Industry Group 823. Technically, libraries are a service industry that cater to the public in a way no company can. Like any company, a library has management that oversee strategic planning, a budget, human resources, outsourcing, vendors, and so on. A CEO running a $30 million company is no different from a library Director running a library system with a $30 million budget – both have a responsibility to their share holders (investors, county residents) and to their boards (board of directors, board of county commissioners). Both can have retirement, marketing goods or services (book sales, programs, public events), R&D, PR, negotiations, contracts, bid wars with vendors and other library systems, customer service issues, and other details becoming of any industry or business.
Libraries can be competitive in their own right: many libraries have new release DVDs that compete with stores, Redbox, Netflix, and best sellers to stop any book store dead in their tracks. The evolution of libraries to digital makes them even more powerful. Instead of 100 people going to a “bricks and mortar” library to get books, 1000 can now check out eBooks on their devices wirelessly from anywhere in the county – or the world for that matter! Just because people are not going to the physical library anymore doesn’t mean that libraries are failing or obsolete. Speaking of physical libraries, let’s not forget the other important part of libraries: Community centers. Many libraries are working to incorporate video game stations, teen zones, work-only areas and other niche areas to create the “third place” mentality – the intellectual version of Cheers where everybody knows your name! As some books are weeded out over time and more floor space becomes available, that becomes space to hold yoga sessions, dance lessons, technology classes, knitting circles, resume/skill workshops, or just Magic card games for teens. Though not important in the least to arrogant and ignorant people like that professor, libraries serve a vital need for regular humans who actually LIKE to be connected in human social activities and probably are barred from holding their knitting circle at a fancy university, anyhow.
Libraries are at the front lines for innovation. They see and hear it all; they are great predictors for trends, technology and pop culture. The only reason libraries don’t get the credit for leading innovation is that libraries don’t have the funds to pursue innovative opportunities in the ways that a private company can. Apple can see changes in the technology winds and do something about it long before a library system can have anything to show from their data. Libraries serve some pretty vital roles: It’s a place to get free books. Until the book disappears completely, libraries will serve a huge need in providing them to the public. Have you priced books lately? Your effete, pampered professor would probably not relate to this. But with income and property increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a few, the need to borrow books can only increase, at least for so long as Americans can still read. It’s a place to use a computer with internet. Many things, like applying for a job or getting a hunting license, increasingly can be done only online. In my little county, barely over half the citizens have computers and internet service. So when someone who is not an academic snot needs an online computer, who they gonna call? Bingo, the local library.
In short…you clearly haven’t been in a library in a few decades. Now get out…and go to the library before you embarrass yourself any further. Whew, I feel better.
Never let anyone tell you that libraries are not a thriving and innovative industry. It’s a bold industry – dare I say Brash?
Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian (and/or industrialist)