Monday, 7 February 2011

Lessons from Latte

Lots of noise recently about the future of libraries. I liked the marches to protest against library closures, and the BBC carried quite a lengthy piece on it's website rather fatuously entitled "Libraries vs the Internet". The very fact that the BBC chose to give the article this title tells us that libraries aren't doing a good enough job of both utilising the internet and telling the world about the great work they're doing regarding digitisation, online catalogues, aggregation and online exhibitions.

One of the problems was highlighted to me again last week in a meeting with a big library. They'd scanned a large number of 19th century books and converted them into eBooks. But, as the OCR'd text was much the same as that to be found in Project Gutenberg, or even Google Books, they had no real option but to give them away for free.

This is the commoditisation of knowledge. Why should I go to this library rather than another?

I've just moved office, and next door is a nice non-chain coffee shop run by a Turkish guy who this morning tried to convince me to go to his Turkish barber (I tried that once, and they set fire to my ears). His coffee is about as good as anyone else's, but he does a few things well. He know who I am, he offers a nice environment, and he gives me a discount. User experience and personalisation.

Maybe I need to persuade my new friend to start selling Turkish coffee though - that's something Starbucks would never do.

And libraries are just the same really. They may offer much ubiquitous content, but their unique offer is their special collections - stuff no-one else has. Baklava are optional.

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