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Library of the 21st Century Symposium

Library of the 21st Century Symposium

Here you can read transcripts of and listen to presentations made at a symposium on the theme of the Library of the 21st Century, hosted by the State Library of Victoria in Australia.

There are some very interesting ideas floated here. I found particularly interesting the talk by UK-based author and corporate strategist Mr Charles Leadbeater on the topic of Libraries and the Creative Economy. Mr. Leadbeater is the author of a 2003 report on public libraries in the UK, called Overdue: how to create a modern public library service and is a leading authority on innovation and creativity in organizations. He has advised the BBC, Channel 4, Microsoft, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, among others.

Here are some excerpts to entice you:

  • …public libraries, at least in the UK, are institutions that are stuck and librarians as a profession are stuck. Now the good news is that you’re not alone because lots of public professions I think are stuck. I think social workers are stuck, I think teachers are stuck, I think a lot of public service managers are stuck and I think a lot of our public institutions are stuck.
  • It’s not about technology…. [Google] is a culture which is incredibly flat, very egalitarian, very nimble, very informal and very entrepreneurial. So you’re not up against the technology, you’re up against that. And what you’ve got to imagine is that public libraries could be as entrepreneurial, creative, open, dynamic and exciting.
  • …libraries of course are, in many ways, of this open, communal world. The atmosphere [in a] library … is … open, very diverse, people using tools for their own ends, a common resource but used for very private purposes, a public platform; very peer-to-peer because you’re really using things that other people have used. And so in many ways libraries foreshadow and are part of, should be part of, this world that we’re seeing created except there’s something that seems to stop us getting into it…
  • So the library is kind of posed with a foot in both camps. Part of its culture is open, democratic, participative and part, I think, quite closed, inward looking and defensive…. [People] do not just go [to libraries] for the wisdom of librarians.
  • Well, how should libraries move forward? Well, I think you see quite a lot of the first ‘reform of the traditional’ model. Let’s create some new services, let’s go digital, put some computers in. Let’s add a cafes because people like that…. I think that can do a bit to stem decline but I’m not sure that it’s the kind of re-modeling, re-thinking that’s really required.
  • So I think that you need some new models for public services which are radical and different…. And those models should enact very basic library principles about democratic rights to information, knowledge, sharing, common resources for private uses. But it’s going to require very, very different organisational models.
  • I think that you would have to see the people who use your services not as users or consumers but as co-producers and co-designers, that it’s not a service you’re delivering to them. You’re giving them tools and a platform in which they can create things themselves.
  • …all of the evidence of Wikipedia, Linux, and even of MySpace, is that actually people like collaboration, participation, sharing knowledge, common platforms, ease of access: all the values that libraries stand for they like. And they like getting more of it through this technology and our task is to try and create a public culture which is as dynamic and open as these private cultures are being and exploiting it and applying it and using it with people to create new value.
  • ..if we’re going to create a more integrated, genuinely equal society, actually access to knowledge becomes critical. And if we give up in the developed world on public platforms for knowledge embedded in libraries, if we let them wither, that idea will wither globally as well.

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