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The Clock Is Ticking

I've thought a great deal about this extinction timeline since my last post. It's hard for me to imagine a world with no public libraries, mostly because I don't want to. However, even when I try to cast a cold eye on their life and death, it's hard for me to imagine that public libraries will be "extinct" by 2019.

Sure, I think the monolithic House of Knowledge design model that has perpetuated since Carnegie is dying. But in its place will sprout countless other service models designed by the countless creative librarians I know to be out there. In fact, I think there will be as many different service models as there are communities, however we define community. Because the imperative of librarians is no longer to impose but to adapt.

One of the interesting juxtapositions on the extinction timeline is its prediction that copyright will die one year after libraries. The two are undoubtedly linked, because the success of many of the most prevalent library service models is predicated on their offering free access to not-free and, often, quite expensive items—items whose monetary value rests almost entirely on their copyright. I think the timeline gets it wrong at least in that it puts the death of libraries before copyright. Copyright is clearly the canary in the coal mine for most current public library models, which emphasize the value of content way more than the value of how it's delivered.

Therefore, as more content creators search for and successfully develop new ways to openly license and distribute their work (see open access publishing, Creative Commons, and Kristin Hersh's CASH Music for examples), libraries will also have to develop ways to collect the work, make it seamlessly findable, and make it relevant to their public. In other words, once enough content is freely and widely available, "free content access" is no longer a reason for public libraries to exist. That's when it comes down to community need and community service—community relevance.

Which is why it's so distressing to hear that a new service outreach model developed at the Brooklyn Public Library will likely get shelved because of budget cutbacks. Perhaps 2019 will come sooner than we think.

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