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I know that others in the library world have talked about Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams” book, but I just read over his section on The Future of the Library, and although it reads a bit like Seth is bipolar on some of the issues, there was one paragraph that stood out for me:

Want to watch a movie? Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library, than any library in the country. The Netflix librarian knows about every movie, knows what you’ve seen and what you’re likely to want to see. If the goal is to connect viewers with movies, Netflix wins.

Putting aside the “librarian” part, this made me think of some of the resources we use that could actually benefit from this type of knowing what you’ve done, and what you’re likely to want to do next…

Let’s take something like Westlaw, Lexis and even Bloomberg as an example. Could they adopt a more “Netflix” style of interaction with the user? They keep statistics on what the customer has already looked at; could they start offering additional user services like:

  • You Might Want To Read X article, case, law review, blog, etc., or 
  • Others who have read this, also read these… 
  • Here are the popular new items that others in your firm/office/city/practice are reading

Perhaps WestlawNext or Lexis Advance does this already (anyone that’s using either of them know if they do??)

Of course, this would come up against the old way we use these resources and how it affects recovery. If the Netflix-like services improve the lawyer’s ability to locate relevant resources for his or her research, and they were able to bill back for those resource, then we’d be happy to see them. However, if the Netflix-like services merely improve the lawyers ability to keep up with his or her area of law (practice development) and it caused a drop in recovery, then we’d be screaming to have them take it down.

When I talked with Bob Hopen from Bloomberg this week, he mentioned that the Bloomberg Law platform was supposed to be, not quite a Netflix style site, but more of a Google or Yahoo! News type of site for the user. Although I applauded him for that type of thinking, perhaps that should be the type of model that these types of resources become. I did mention that most of our users that access these services still use them in the old way of “get in, get what you need, get out” style of managing cost by limiting usage. Perhaps a new player, and a new pricing scheme like Bloomberg Law is attempting to do, may break that cycle of usage? I’m not sure. As long as we librarians have to focus on recovering costs from the clients, I don’t think so.

Sorry… I got a little off topic there. Anyway, my initial thoughts on this were that it seems very likely that online services and research tools will go the way of the Netflix like services.

In addition to that, what about our internal services? Could InterAction be tooled in a way to offer Netflix style services? Imagine the ability for a lawyer to look up a person in InterAction and see a picture and some type of bio, and then be given suggestions on “people who connect with Bob also tend to connect with Jane of ABC Corp.”

Or, how about services like a Library Resources Portal where it can pop up a “cover flow” set of “New Resources Available” or give the user suggested resources based on their previous usages (or the usages of others in their Practice Groups.)

Many of these services are what Librarians used to do, but may not do (and may not need to do) anymore because our clients are much more into self-help when it comes to striking out on their own and finding things. Some librarians will see this as eating away at the profession, while the creative librarians will see this as a way to restructure what they do and adapt to this inevitable change and take on the role that Godin suggests by becoming a “producer, concierge, connector, teacher, and impresario.”