What is a Library?

NYPL Storytelling App

Fantastic article on the New York Public Library (NYPL) in the Atlantic, What Big Media can Learn from the New York Public Library, is giving me another “whack on the side of the head”.  A couple of weeks ago Rebecca and I recognized that databases were just websites; why do we make it more complicated for our clients, patrons, or participants?  Who cares if it is a source of information that has a price tag?  It still looks and feels like a website!  And now, in his Atlantic article, Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, and the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology, is calling the NYPL a social network, and one that has 3 million members.  Of course a library is a social network, why couldn’t we see this?  Our perspectives are too narrow!!  The NYPL is clever the way it integrates other backgrounds/frames with librarians — museum directors, TV producers, and news journalists — storytellers!  And I love how Madrigal is “thinking about how the library uses its assets to drive, in the argot of [his] industry, user engagement.”

Adds Madrigal, “The library still lends books, but over the past year, the NYPL has established itself as a beacon in the carcass-strewn content landscape with smart e-publications, crowdsourcing projects, and an overall digital strategy that shows a far greater understanding of the power of the Internet than most traditional media companies show.”

“Everywhere you look within the New York Public Library, it’s clear that the institution has realized that its mission has changed. It’s no longer only a place where people take out books and scholars dig through archives. The library has become a social network with physical and digital nodes.”

“A library is not just a place that collects information and processes information,” May[Micah May, NYPL’s director of strategy] said. “We create the tools and structure the information so that others can enhance the collections.” Another NYPLer, Doug Reside, Digital Curator of Performing Arts, put it even more simply, “The public library can be used to organize people to organize information.”  “I think we can become places of conversation,” the curator Reside said, “Places where information is not only pulled off the shelf, but conversations can also happen around the contents of the library.”

“Vershbow [manager of NYPL Labs] describes the library as a “massive collection of niches,” not unlike the web itself. Getting collections online and weaving them into the extant communities is “a very natural place for us to be in the knowledge commons.”

“Every magazine, television network, or radio station with an archive is sitting on gold. Get that stuff out of the basement and put it online for free, where people can link to, remix, and use it. But don’t just dump it there. Take advantage of what the web can do. Structure the work, as NYPL’s strategy head says, so that people can improve on your collection.”

What a wonderful role model NYPL is, not just for other libraries and information services, but for media companies and more!  Thanks, Madrigal, for shining a light on such a bright spot in the library biz!

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