Magazine article Computers in Libraries

What to Watch for in 2011

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

What to Watch for in 2011

Article excerpt

I went to the store to buy an e-reader device recently. I never thought I would do that, or that I might want to do that, or that I would write that I went to buy an e-reader. It turns out I did think that, I went to the store to buy it, and here I am writing about it. But I didn't buy it.

I didn't buy an e-reader because there were a lot of ways it could fail for me. Failure has been on my mind a lot lately, and you're about to read a lot about why I think how we handle failure will be the biggest story for libraries in 2011. First, though, I'll revisit what I said this time last year.

In last January's "predictions for the year" column, I focused on the idea that reading online isn't worth debating anymore because we're all already doing it and that 2010 will be the year we realize that. I'm not sure if I can grade that as 100% correct, but it's closer to 100% correct than 100% wrong. The iPad shipped with a bookstore. The Kindle got better and cheaper, and can sell books on the Kindle along with every other major device. nooks started appearing in subway riders' hands here in town all of a sudden, and the newly astounding resolution of Android-based phones and iPhones made reading on screens and on-the-go more feasible than ever before. Perhaps the most telling story was Amazon's mid-year announcement that its sales of ebooks had outstripped sales of hardcovers. If you weren't paying attention before, you'd better be now.

You can't say I didn't warn you.

The second prediction I made last year was about our need to do more with less, specifically with continued tightening and shrinking of our libraries' budgets. That trend hasn't stopped, and I'm sad to say that it looks like 2011 will be a year when even the handful of institutions that have made it through the past few years relatively unscathed are going to get hit hard financially too. This can take many shapes, whether it's more shuttering of services and locations or staff reductions through retirement and attrition. However it happens, if you're not prepared for the possibility, I'd advise you to think it through. I don't want to drown you in doom and gloom, but what's in the financial news these days doesn't give me hope for a turnaround.

That doesn't mean we should go mope in the corner. Far from it. If you're able to get through a tight period like the one we're in, if you stay focused on what's most important to your users, and if you continue to innovate and refine and optimize that focus, you can emerge a stronger and even more valuable presence in your community. In the meantime, it's the things that can go wrong that have me thinking a lot lately.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

As I write this column in the wake of the news of hundreds of layoffs at Yahoo!, the news came that some of Yahoo!'s popular sites such as Delicious may be turned off in the near future. This is the kind of unexpected news we should expect--the commercial sector isn't like ours, where we try to sustain services even if they cost a great deal just because they're fundamental to our mission. For companies such as Yahoo! and hundreds of smaller companies with Web 2.0 apps we've grown to depend upon in the past 5 years, when the money stops flowing, or even when their subscriber growth rates slow, hard decisions have to be made. Few companies will keep a losing product alive for long.

There are several coping strategies for these kinds of failures. First and foremost is to expect some sites out there "in the cloud" to fail or otherwise shut down when you're not ready for it. Think about the collection development policy at a research library--there are items that are key to a science or a humanities library that you have to acquire; there are items that a good-sized library should have on hand; and there are items that a library should only acquire if its institution specializes in a particular branch or subdiscipline of research (or if by its sheer size it simply makes sense to buy everything). …

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