If you read my blog regularly, then you know that I prefer to write about the culture of libraries as opposed to say, ebooks, although I have written about ebooks in the past. Just because I don’t write about them doesn’t mean that I don’t keep up with developments in the field because I do.

In fact, yesterday I attended 3 out of the 5 sessions that comprised the online ebook conference, eBooks: Benefits, Challenges, and the Future sponsored by SEFLIN. While I missed the sessions presented by Chad Mairn and Nik Osborne, I did participate in the sessions presented by Stephen Abram, Jamie LaRue, and Sue Polanka. The information that was presented was fantastic, and there is a wonderful, comprehensive LibGuide that will show you everything you missed but want to know. Abram’s slides can be found here; the rest of the slides will be posted with the LibGuide soon.

Whenever I attend any conference or workshop or training, I usually come away with one, big takeaway. Even though I learned a lot of valuable information yesterday that will be useful in understanding the complexity of the digital environment, especially as it relates to libraries, I came away with a new awareness about the culture of libraries, which is, of course, right up my alley.

During Jamie LaRue’s portion of the program, he was asked a question along the lines of this, Do your patrons appreciate your choices? The person asking the question was referring to Douglas County’s now famous model for hosting its own digital content provided largely by small, independent publishers and self-published authors. Mr. LaRue describes this model eloquently for his customers in this open letter. In other words, the query was designed to find out if patrons are actually checking out these books that are not national bestsellers or even widely recognized.

His answer was something along the lines of this, It’s not where I’d like it to be yet. That’s not surprising. I’ve always wondered about the practicality of providing unknown material that may not be wanted by readers. Nobody would expect legions of James Patterson fans to immediately rush to check out ebooks written by people they’ve never heard of.

But what struck me was this: Doing what Jamie LaRue is doing in Colorado requires a culture that supports the following:

  • Risk
  • Failure

Douglas County Libraries it taking a huge leap of faith. They have carefully assessed the future of publishing and are getting ahead of the curve rather than waiting to find themselves behind it. They have invested in a possible (probable?) but not guaranteed future. That requires guts.

Because the simple truth is that they could fail. Their model may not meet customer needs. Or, it may surpass customer needs and give people something they didn’t even know they wanted or could have.

Some may say, well, it’s easy to take a risk when you have the money or other vital support. But I’m not sure how many libraries–funding considerations removed–would venture this far out on a limb knowing that the branch will certainly bend and maybe even snap off.

Libraries should develop cultures that support risk-taking and the failure that can come along with it. This requires the right kind of leadership and a new collective mindset. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if the word library could come to be intrinsically intertwined with the word innovation in the future of publishing? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if libraries could become known for getting ahead of the curve?

I’m not saying that will be easy or fast or even possible in some locations. And it will require taking risks and being willing to fail. But isn’t that better than being at the mercy of the Big Six or holding on to the past model and hoping that it will be good enough?

I don’t believe the future of libraries will be determined by ebooks or any other tangible thing. I believe the future of libraries will be determined by library culture. And that’s why I write about it.