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Creating a New Nostalgia: The Tuesday Keynote

David Ferriero (L) and John Palfrey

David Ferriero (L) and John Palfrey

John Palfrey's New Book

John Palfrey’s New Book

David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy and Board President of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), held a keynote conversation to open the second day of CIL 2015. It was an extremely encouraging session for librarians and everyone concerned with libraries in today’s digital world.

David interviewed John and began by congratulating him on the recent publication of his new book, BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, and asking him if we still need libraries.  John replied that we need libraries more than ever in the present environment.  Although he is not a librarian, he admires them very much. The book is for people who are not librarians and argues strongly about our need for them. It says that we have forgotten how much we need libraries.

There is currently a sense that libraries have already served their purpose; however, there is now a bigger role available to libraries than ever. Libraries are being asked to do more than they have, but often without an increase in their resources. The internet has not made libraries irrelevant; it has made them more potent. We must build an infrastructure to make their mission more possible.

John’s book calls for the creation of a new nostalgia, and it is up to us to figure out what that means. New knowledge will persist that will make libraries more relevant in the future.  Combining the physical and virtual environments will be a very interesting progression.

Libraries have always been in the business of figuring out what their users need, but the focus has been on the collection of physical objects rather than on the human experience.  Human-centered design must be the driver of libraries’ products and services. The focus is moving away from being collection-centric.

The digital divide is very serious today. The issue was formerly technology access, but that divide has closed somewhat; now the difference is between having a broadband connection at home and having the skills to use it effectively, which is a huge opportunity for libraries that can provide the skills and technology for children. Many libraries are packed with kids after school because they are a great place to study and create knowledge together.  Where would the kids go if the library was not there? Libraries are more than community centers, and if we turn libraries into community centers, it will result in less funding for libraries. We need to get the information architects into the planning for the digital space.

The DPLA is now two years old. It has 1,600 contributing institutions. More than 15 states are also contributing. Much of DPLA’s content is open access. The new nostalgia will come from people taking its content and using it to make new works.

Libraries should inform, engage, and delight their users.  Informing and engaging are important, but there must be a fun component to libraries, especially for young people. If we do not have a public place where people, regardless of who they are, can go to get access to knowledge in a safe way, we are lost. Libraries are cornerstone institutions in a democracy.

School libraries have a unique role in supporting educational reform. Teachers who grew up in an analog era tend not to think about digital literacy, and they are not preparing our children well in this area. School libraries are one of the most under-appreciated assets in this country. The cost of them is very small in relation to funding an entire school, and the return on the investment is very high. If libraries had an app on students’ smartphones, it would probably provide an answer to the observation that students are no longer using libraries.

The digital world could be worse than the physical world because if a library had only e-books, they would not own anything!  Libraries are always arguing for sensible copyright reform, which is a strong role that they can play.  The fact that we cannot digitize works for which the copyright owner is not known (orphan works) is berserk!  What possible harm is being done by digitizing orphan works? Many times when an orphan work is digitized, the owner shows up and gets the benefit of the rights.

Rather than thinking about yourself working alone, think as a network actor.  There is vastly more power than has been unleashed. The architects of the new nostalgia are in the room today!

Don Hawkins
Conference Blogger


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