Many believe that the world wide web now provides access to all of the world’s accumulated knowledge. A simple Google search will provide all the relevant information a person may desire about a topic. They do not know that valuable information will never become available in machine‐readable form and that much digitized information is only available for a price. Spalding & Wang. (2006). The challenges and opportunities of marketing academic libraries in the USA: Experiences of US academic libraries with global application. Library Management, 27(6/7), 494-504. doi:10.1108/01435120610702477This quote may be a little dated in internet-years, but by and large it’s still true, and still relevant: libraries have had trouble when it comes to marketing themselves against (and on) the Internet. This broad point has been tackled by tons of people before me and is an important topic on its own, but it’s as good a place as any to start a discussion on libraries and online video. When thinking about why this has been the case, I want to draw attention to two big reasons:
- The pace of technological advancement
- “Market forces” (lookin’ at you, Capitalism)
The Pace of Technological AdvancementI bring all of this up because yes, hello, I’m the mythical digital native that folks envision(ed) millennials to be (setting aside for a moment the fraught-ness of both “millennial” and “digital native”). I watched computers become Moore and Moore powerful at the same pace that I developed into adulthood. I lucked out when I joined the Navy in 2008, six months before the stock market imploded, so I’ve always had money to buy my own tech with.
There is a public outcry today—as there should be—about NSA surveillance, but the breadth of that surveillance pales in comparison to the data that Google, Apple, Facebook, and legions of app developers are collecting. Vivek Wadhwa, “Laws and Ethics Can’t Keep Pace with Technology.” MIT Technology Review, April 14 2014This is absolutely not to say that the internet killed libraries, though — public funding can be a blessing. And the internet won’t kill libraries, even though it might leave them in a bad way here and there. I think that as various businesses tanked completely because the internet was not their golden goose, public (and private) funding let libraries as an institution stay afloat, re-orient, and eventually recover. But the speed of tech innovation is brutal, and it is hard for libraries to keep up. It’s easy to forget that when I’m as spoiled as I am by VPL and UBC and all of the amazing things they do. Admittedly — guiltily — I was the kind of person who, until attending a talk by Creative Commons’ Cable Green in 2014 in the last year of my undergrad, felt that the Internet largely made libraries obsolete because “you can find anything online!” Because that’s all I’d known, I didn’t meaningfully consider the possibility that “technology as panacea” as an idea was actually the cause of a lot of problems in tech. So while I held the majority opinion that libraries were good things, I didn’t really think that they were for me. Because I was able to ride the wave of technological advancement rather than be drowned by it, I didn’t see libraries’ value to me, and so I didn’t consider their value to others.
:/ My face inwardly for much of Library School as I realized the errors of my ways.
… Because CapitalismNow, my experience growing up with technology is the exception — but in terms of economics, I’m pretty comfortably average. The United States Census Bureau reported in 2016 that 12.7% of Americans lived in poverty. Not a small number, but conversely it means that 87.3% of Americans don’t. This is important, because when you have the money to buy a book, or go see a movie, or own a computer or smartphone, or put your children into preschool and kindergarten, you’re probably not as likely to try and find out how to get these things for free. If paying for high speed internet doesn’t interfere with your ability to feed or shelter yourself (assuming it’s even available where you live — in 2017 only 45% of internet connections were broadband – see P. 14), then you’re probably going to pay for high speed internet in your home. First of all, it’s convenient; and second of all, it’s almost required as more and more government services migrate online. Since governments generally (ideally) concern themselves with safeguarding their citizens’ human rights, this makes access to the internet almost a prerequisite to your humanity. Which is █████y. Once a person does get online, they get access to Google and the doors are opened. Google’s business is selling ads, and it succeeds at that by knowing what people want. It learns what people want by running an, admittedly, really efficient search engine (among other things).
Other thingsThere are likely other factors at play. One that comes to mind that I’d like to explore is the idea of entrenchment: cultural, political, or hierarchical. I’m a little leery of jumping into exploring that though, because my experience working in libraries is limited to the research assistantship I’ve been doing part time for about a year now (and has been really lovely, tbh). Suffice to say though, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that in some situations, there’s been resistance to libraries doing more on the Internet, especially around the mid-to-late 90’s (I was definitely sure the internet was pretty rad, but also I was 10). In every field, in every workplace, “it just isn’t the way things are done” is something that gets thrown around. Sometimes there are good reasons for that, too — risk aversion, lack of resources, perceived costs associated with change, or the amount of time someone has until retirement. I’m sure that before the Internet got as big as it did, plenty of people didn’t really expect it to become the powerhouse that it is now, and so they didn’t act on it. They just happened to be wrong, is all.
This was an incredibly long first post (I’m aiming for 1k words and this is just shy of 2k), and also not quite the same format that I’m fixing to use for the rest of them. 😬 But hopefully it’s useful! Next week, I think I’ll look at some of the libraries on YouTube and see how the platform’s being used.
If you’ve got any feedback for me, you can gmail me at pmusser, or tweet me at @the_musser. I know there are tons of blogs out there, and so if you took the time to read this entire thing I’m curious about your motivation and what you thought of it.Thanks kindly, and don’t forget to ask questions.