Augusten Burroughs is a best-selling author. One of his books, Running With Scissors, has been on the NYT best seller list for over 70 weeks. You wouldn’t think that would make him a library futurist but he makes a rather interesting prediction for libraries in an short article published in the January-February issue of DETAILS magazine (sorry, it’s not online – but if your library subscribes check pages 96-97).
The article isn’t about libraries. It’s about relationships. Why I find it interesting is that it reflects our global fascination with Google. He writes “We are a Google Nation. Type in a few words on any subject and a staggering amount of information hurls forth in two seconds flat.” I found a connection here with Marc’s piece about “What Google Teaches.” It may not be that Google teaches students that books are not worthwhile, but what it definitely does teach, or rather how it conditions their behavior, is to have absolutely no patience for information retrieval. Burroughs writes that we are “a speed-obsessed culture”, and if our water won’t boil as fast as Google gives results then it’s entirely unacceptable. Do speed-obsessed people have what it takes to turn the pages of a reference book until they find what they need? That might require a bit of effort as well, and Burroughs also observes that as a culture we have become programmed to avoid two things: hard work and persistence.
As for using libraries and doing research, well they obviously require both at times. So as far as Burroughs can tell, in the next decade both libraries and librarians will probably be out of business. He writes:
“A mere 10, 15 years ago if you wanted to research something you went to a library. You opened the unwieldy card catalog, deciphered the geekishly long code, and walked a quarter-mile into the stacks to locate a specific book and the little piece of information needed. Now the only reason to go into the stacks is to have sex…My guess is that within the next decade…Libraries will be converted into more useful real estate – condos and coffee bars – and the librarians who work in them will be rounded up and retrained to operate industrial espresso machines and cash registers.”
I start teaching a library school course about academic librarianship in another two months. Our final class session focuses on academic library futures, and I’m always on the lookout for interesting ones. I think I’m going to skip mentioning Burroughs’ vision.