I had an assignment due today that I wanted to get done last night and it ended up taking me longer than I thought. Oh well. At least I got it done, right?

Today I got out of the library and to another conference. This one was an interlibrary loan conference put on by the state consortium. In Minnesota we have an organization called Minitex and all libraries share resources through it. So I can get (almost) any book from any library in the state for “free.” Every year in May they have a conference at the University of Minnesota. The Minitex director gives us a state of Minitex talk and they bring in speakers to talk library stuff. Last year the big keynote was on generational differences. This year we got a talk from a professional marketer that was kind of meh. But the big keynote was a speaker from OCLC, the people who bring us WorldCat. He talked about their recently published report Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community (available for free download). The last time they did a perceptions report was in 2005 so the talk had some fascinating comparative numbers.

When I got home and was telling Bookman about it we had a great conversation imagining some of the things that libraries could do. Kind of hard to replay here as the conversation was nearly an hour long.

Anyway, the OCLC speaker was really interesting. He talked about library branding and how, when asked what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a library, 75% said books. That number is up from 69% in 2005. I’ve heard similar numbers before at library gatherings and then listened as the speaker went on to say how libraries need to change this perception or risk becoming irrelevant. So it was refreshing to hear today how we should embrace this brand because corporations like Coca-Cola would do just about anything for 75% of people to say “Coke” in response to what is the first thing you think of when you think of soft drinks.

The speaker went on to say that 73% of Americans consider themselves readers and it is those readers libraries need to reach out to. How we do that, of course, is the challenge. We have to think in creative and innovative ways. He told us about an idea someone he was talking with not long ago proposed, the library as showroom for ebooks.

People like to browse physical books still, so what if the library was set up with physical books people could come and browse and when they found one they wanted to read, they scanned the barcode with their smart phone or other device and the ebook of the physical book is automatically downloaded to their device. The patron gets 3 weeks to read to book and when the book is about to expire they get a message that says “your book is about to expire, would you like to buy a copy?” If they click on yes, they instantly own the ebook and the library, who has made a deal with the publisher/distributor/whoever, gets $2 for the patron buying the book through the library. That money then gets put toward the purchase of more content for the library. What do you think? An interesting idea, yes?

This idea is what led to the conversation I had with Bookman which, among other things, imagined what it would be like if libraries became content publishers for local writers, providing both free library lending and the opportunity for people to buy the book if they liked it with the library getting a percentage of the sale.

What is clear from the report is that people love libraries, people use libraries, people want libraries to be open more hours, but library funding and services being in danger seems to have become the new normal. So how do we continue to serve our communities in a way that keeps people loving libraries? How do we provide books (print, audio, and ebook), movies, and CDs and other services when budgets keep getting cut? There is no single answer. There are lots of ideas. We must be courageous enough to give them a try.

A pretty good day. No more conferences that I know of for a while. The law students where I work are in their last week of finals and my library starts summer hours next week. Summer at my library means doing projects that there was no time for during the year. Not sure what those will be, but I look forward to the more relaxed and easy going atmosphere that summer hours bring. Oh, and I only have three and a half more weeks left until I graduate library school. Woo!

Tomorrow I’ll be back to talking about books.