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There is a theme that I hear from interviews of today’s struggling musicians, “I really wish we had been making music in the 90’s.” The idea behind that, although it might be like that Utopian 1950’s United States that never really existed, is that there was a time when people bought music, record companies supported bands through promotion and concert funding, and that if you were a good band that had a following, you could make a lot of money in the process. It seems that those of us in the Library, Information and Research profession think along the same lines as those musicians. There was a golden age where information was scarce, people needed our assistance in collecting that information, and we were there to support those in need of obtaining the information. Now, just like musicians, we wished there was a way to get back to those golden years, but we know that it is gone forever, and we struggle to define what it is that we can do that will still fill our desires to succeed in our professions.
The problem with both the music world and the information world is that anyone can now cut a song or directly obtain information without going through the tradition processes of a music studio or a library. The once scarce resources are now so common that there seems to be almost no barriers to obtaining these resources. A five-dollar app on my iPad can produce high-quality music, and an Internet connection can bring in amazing amounts of high-quality information. No longer are music studios or libraries the only place to go to get what you need. That has caused an enormous amount of upheaval in both of these industries, and the professionals that work in these industries, but at the same time, the consumers of these industries have more options than ever. So, how do we, at least on the library and information side of this situation, adapt?
The record industry is still trying to catch up with the paradigm shift, and they misfired on many occasions in adjusting to the shift by continually trying to find ways of getting their industry back to a model that simply didn’t exist any longer. Instead of looking at the needs of the consumer, they looked at the needs of the industry. The same might be said of the library industry. We look at ways that technology and services can be modified to give a better version of the same service instead of stepping back and creating new technologies and new services that fit the changing demands of the customers. In fact, we’ve probably spent too many years attempting to satisfy the needs of customers that will never, ever use us again because they can simply obtain what they want from a cheaper, faster resource (read: Google).
Syracuse University’s professor and Dean’s Scholar for the New Librarianship, David Lankes, discusses these changes in those that use information, and how those of us that believe we provide relevant information are not on the same page. A very good article on this topic is in this month’s Information Today, Inc. where Lankes comes right out and says that where we, as a profession, are going, is not where our customers are heading. To paraphrase Lankes, our customers are dreaming of the things they want to do, while the librarians are attempting to make them give up those dreams in order to follow the guidelines and rules we set up to make our own jobs easier. If we continue to try to make our customers fit into our defined services, we are destined to fail. Instead, we need to define our services based on those dreams of our customers. Since we are not the only game in town any longer, the customers will simply leave and go to those services that fulfill their dreams.
For today’s musician as well as today’s librarian, there are amazing opportunities to serve a community in a way that makes you more valued by a smaller group of people. The same technology and shifts in the way customers access music/information that has caused us all headaches can also be leveraged in ways that expand our reach beyond our traditional customer base. For musicians, it is exposing the styles of your trade to groups of potential customers through self-promotion and understanding the different potential communities that are out there that desire to hear you, but just don’t know you exist. For the library, it is slightly different, but the idea is that you find out where your community wants to go, and for you to set up your services to help get them there and then partner with that community to help them get to the next place they want to go.