My wife and I just decided that we would rather live without heat than air conditioning. We decided this after living for four days without it, during the hottest week of the year in Raleigh. A mixture of bad luck and some repairman incompetence made for a very long weekend.
I remember when I first started at NC State, I jokingly asked one of the older staff why everyone in N.C. walked so slow. She replied—quite wisely—that you can separate North Carolinians into two camps: those who lived here before air conditioning and those who moved here after it became pervasive. “If you had moved that fast back then, you would have been dead by 3 p.m.,” she quipped. “Of course, you would have been wearing a jacket and tie, too,” she added with a wink and a sideways glance at my attire.
All that heat made people slow down. I wonder if that is what is happening to libraries. There’s so much going on that we are actually slowing down in hopes of surviving the heat. Google books, RDA, ILS industry shake-ups, new catalogs, 2.0. I think I’ll just grab a seat on that bench over there in the shade.
I think we need to change our state of mind a little. Instead of thinking of folks like Google making it too hot, think of them as air conditioning. We don’t need them to survive, but they make things more comfortable. They change the pace of life.
Google won’t say, but the Economist estimates that it could be scanning 10M books per year. Numbers I heard from the Library of Congress a couple of weeks ago reported 350,000 items cataloged last year. I’ll let y’all do some comparative math on that one.
Open Library launched a little while ago. Brewster Kahle’s crew wants to digitize and describe all the books. They’re snarfing up as many catalog records as they can. This is an interesting cooperative project that is essentially challenging both OCLC and Google. Is this a problem for libraries or an opportunity? Should we be preparing to ship all pre-1923 titles off to remote storage and compact shelving so that we can figure out what to do with the rest of the collections?
Amazon and Kirtas have teamed up with Emory and the University of Maine to cool things off as well. Get ready for more print on demand. Is this an area that libraries would want to wade into on their own? Now, if we can only travel the last hot mile of the e-book journey by convincing publishers that e-books are air conditioning, not more heat (we also need to convince them to make more public roads and less private and exclusive tollways).
When I related the story of my weekend and the sentiment about living without A/C to a complete stranger yesterday, he replied, “Funny thing is you need heat to survive, not air conditioning.” We like heat, we need heat, but for now, I’m pretty happy with all the air conditioning.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]