I think something remarkable can happen. I think that if I saw anything worth reporting on at ALA this year, it’s that I saw librarians stepping up, stepping forward, and saying “I can help make this better.” Our world is shifting and changing, in trivial and profound ways.
On June 26th, I sat in the Super Shuttle from the Anaheim Super 8 to the John Wayne Airport, tracking our time and progress on the Google Maps app on my iPad, and tweeting about it. Because of some late-night online reservation snafus, I was nervous about getting to the airport on time, with enough room to spare to get myself lunch. And so while my use of the iPad was trivial and superfluous to whether or not I arrived on time, it changed my world just a bit to gather that information in real-time and communicate with my friends about my anxiety. Now imagine a 3 year old child of 2012 who has never been self-aware in a world that didn’t have in it an always-connected portable touch-screen computer loaded with communications and learning objects. Imagine that my use of the iPad to soothe my worries about the minutia of my life is second nature to every learner who enters our libraries in 2027. Imagine that when those students start arriving at our service points, our websites, our offices, we’re ready for them. That we’ve acted in conscious, thoughtful ways that lead us to a place of clever relevance in the world being shaped by the changes happening right now.
In contrast, this year we saw 3 pieces of legislation that made my skin crawl. SOPA and PIPA would have given unprecedented power to the government to shut down websites for copyright infringing behavior by users of those sites, and the Research Works Act would have outlawed open access mandates like that coming from the National Institutes of Health. None of these are in the best interests of access to information and freedom of research. All three were defeated. All three will be back.
So where did they come from? They came from the old guard information industries. The MPAA. The RIAA. Elsevier. They came from monolithic segments of our information economy which have long had control over production, distribution, and the financials of their corner of the information economy. Traditional media, in all its forms. And then the internet came along. And it changed everything. And user expectations and behaviors changed. And corporate stakeholders said, “but we’re caterpillars, and we’re very successful at being caterpillars, and they should stop encouraging us to sprout wings. Let’s try to cut off all the wings.” And when users started gluing on external wings, they tried to pass legislation to cut those off, too. Well, I think it’s clear in 2012 that suing teenagers for file-sharing, censoring websites, and forcing taxpayers to pay for taxpayer funded research won’t stuff the wings back inside the caterpillar.
If it wasn’t already, the mass protests against SOPA and PIPA and backlash from the new information economy over the RWA made that clear. There are new economic drivers in play. There are new user expectations creating new drivers. And pretty much no one thinks we’re going back to the days of Blockbuster, Borders, print newspapers, and record stores having compelling market share. That era is over. We’ve moved on to Netflix, Amazon, Google News, and iTunes.
SOPA, PIPA, and the RWA are all reactions to the fact that things fundamentally changed, and the traditional industry powerbase wasn’t ready for it. So they reacted. They reacted out of fear. They reacted out of protectionism. They reacted out of ignorance. They reacted out of misplaced arrogance. And they’re going to continue to wave their power around… but the avalanche has already begun, and even the boulders don’t get to vote, anymore.
And so my point, as I suspect you can see, is that if we want to do something remarkable with libraries, information literacy, access to information, data, and research, preservation and digitization, and all the potential that we see out there… we have to act. Not react. We do not want to model ourselves after the dying reactive archetypes of the old information economy. They are simply providing us with bad examples of what happens when the fearful try to replicate the past, mire themselves in the present, and control the future.
Let’s be better than that. Let’s not react and move toward zero. So I say get inspired. Think of the kid with the iPad, not of the way things used to be. Be something more interesting than SOPA and PIPA. Think farther, think further. Then acknowledge your fear of doing that, and move past it, and move. Do something. Be better. Be more. Be remarkable.
I gave this talk the first time in April, poetry month, and quoted two poems. One was Neil Gaiman’s “instructions”, which I offered up because I think sometimes the fairy tales were right, and their lessons are still important. You can find fan art of Gaiman reading it here:
I closed with my favorite Shel Silverstein poem, which I will do again here.
Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.
Be remarkable. Anything can be.