Editorial: Hunting for customers

No one can know it all, and that’s why people still need to get together.

I met with other national library directors in Cape Town during an IFLA conference. The future holds many megatrends: consolidation, regulation and globalisation. GAFA – Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook – are well aware of this. They are continuing their merciless global domination. The world is being split in half: into barbarians and humanists. Shades of grey are also acceptable.

If you want to be polite, you could say that libraries are not that good with megatrends – regulation is perhaps our strongest business. Our systems and services do not pose a threat to anyone, and we are not particularly visible either. In general, national libraries have digitised less than 2 percent of their materials, which cannot really be considered world domination.

Other national libraries 

Yet I did come across two beneficial strategies. In The Netherlands The National Library intends to digitise 90 per cent of the country’s key materials “over the coming years”. Apparently, they had to say that out loud to get things rolling. The Dutch trust that the money will follow and it has.

The British Library recently made a million photos freely available online. They came from digitised, copyright-free historical books. It did not even cross the British Library’s mind that people would come searching for them on the library’s website. Instead, the BL injected the photos straight into social media – Flicker, Pinterest and Instagram. 

Do not wait 

Patrons are amazing creatures who use their end device to make choices that move stock markets and make millionaires. For many, their only end device is a mobile phone. We just have to accept that. We must deliver much lighter solutions with less money.

This revolution is already well on its way. Television has lost its significance. People are already spending more time on the internet. In Denmark, only one in three people still read print newspapers. As of 2020, everything will start converging on a single cloud service. Everything else will lose significance. In that sense, the time of the library as a physical entity is over.

Belongs to all 

I am not killing off any libraries; I am just saying that it is no longer worth standing behind a desk waiting for patrons when the same materials are available elsewhere online.

At the conference, we noted that we are facing a solutionbased future. We do not intend to surrender this business to GAFA. Our cultural heritage belongs to us all, and national libraries are doing their utmost to safeguard its interests – in spite of governments.

Director of The National Library of Finland