This week I went to a library seminar in Augusta, Maine about ebooks and their impact on libraries. The key speaker was Jason Griffey who was thought provoking and fun at the same time – a great combination.
Griffey talked about “experiences becoming expectations”, the situation that occurs when folks encounter an easy interface with technology at home (like downloading a book onto a Kindle) and then come into the library assuming that their experiences in the library will be just as easy. When libraries don’t deliver (try downloading an ebook from Overdrive), there is a huge gap between expectations and reality which can result in the loss of users.
He had a great statement that summarizes this situation – customers will almost always pick “cheap and easy versus free and hard”. That is an eye-opening thought when you consider how often we public libraries like to tout that we are free, making an assumption that because our services are free we don’t have to worry about how difficult those services might be to use. Seems pretty obvious that if we don’t find a way to make things easier, even our loyal supporters are going to stop coming back.
For the past year I’ve been feeling like the trends in technology are demonstrating an ever-increasing potential to either make or break the public library in this country. Ebooks are not the only manifestation of that technology tsunami but they are certainly one of those most relevant to libraries. My net take-away from this seminar was an increasing feeling of pressure. If we don’t get technology and public libraries figured out VERY quickly we are going to become irrelevant even faster than we anticipate.
I think that technology has to move to the top of every library’s priority list – now. Not six months from now but today. I f other things get moved way down the list, that’s ok. I talked to Jason Griffey at the end of his presentation and asked him how long we have to figure out how to drive technology changes versus being driven by them. He said 3-5 years – then we (libraries) get left behind. Yikes. Pretty scary. I better get to work.