ACRL 2011 – The Bipolar Library

Keynote: Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget. Guy who coined the term “virtual reality.”

Asked to talk about the Harper-Collins ebook debacle. Wants to give perspective of how all this stuff that’s going on with ebooks is viewed by technologists.

Publishers are looking at what happened with music — “essentially total destruction.” Music used to operate as a risk pool, now people have to fund themselves & their career. This is great! People do it out of love, not for money. But…it really “destroys the middle class.” In 1992, 1/3 of a million people had middle-class music jobs (session players, etc).

“Wars about digital culture are not just about digital culture”. Future of society. This situation doesn’t end with publishers, musicians. Is there really a middle class in society at all? Spread of automation — robots can drive cars more safely than we can, what happens to bus & taxi drivers? Japanese using robots in elder care.

Silicon Valley guy hat — how do publishers and libraries look from this view?

Google makes the most $ per keyword search on ads from litigators looking for people to join class action suits. Advertising is really access to other people.

“Openness is a bit of a scam.” Certain level of data that anyone can get, rest is kept secret. You can’t look at the code/data that connects people (Google, FB, etc.). Not a sustainable model.

“Cyberlibertarian” mindset – net neutrality, etc.

“I’m pro-Silicon Valley, I want these folks to succeed.” But look at FB: trickle of revenue, huge valuation, same business plan as Google. FB just grabs people away from the open internet, connect in their walled garden.

If you’re worried about openness, FB should be of concern to you. Used to be able to get obscure info via forums, websites etc. But now, those convos are moving into FB, so you have to join. But he doesn’t want to (somene is running a fake Jaron profile). Two “yous” on FB – one you can access “this is wonderful me.” You’re custodian of this one. Another you’ll never get to see – the database of what is known about you. Guesses about your marketing preferences, etc. An illusion of openness that hides a secret core, which feeds of the open data.

This is a short term path that is “insanely profitable” but long term is self-destructive.

Libraries say “we should open up as much as possible, make it acceptable.” Danger is de-romanticizing book, author. Don’t worry about the specifics of the deal, like the Harper-Collins thing. Focus on keeping the interest/romance around books. That way we & publishers will survive.

Music – you have access to so much music, so many artists, that it loses the specialness. Same thing with books?

Limits to the value of convenience. Apple has achieved “a near monopoly in cultural connections to affluent and educated people.” Process by which Apple monetizes looks like maximizing convenience…everyone has experienced a certain degree of hassle. Tether to computer to computer to update, alarm doesn’t work, etc. “I don’t think they deliberately add a bit of a hassle factor, but I also think they aren’t motivated to fix it.” Apple “mediating access to smart people?” [Ed. Note: Hmm. Really?]

Consulting gig: “But if we make this reliable, people won’t view it as a luxury brand.” “People fall in love with what they have to struggle for.”

Library has democratized access to books, crucial to democracy, middle class, widespread liberty. Special building – imposing, sense of reverence about it, sense of status about what’s inside. (Book, the idea of authorship in general.) “Inconvenience ritual that reifies the status of what you’re getting access to.” Make access too automatic, bloodless, lacking in commitment, you’ll “commit the same kind of suicide the music world did.”

Think in human terms. Don’t be snookered by the Silicon Valley guys.

Future of academic & research library has to concentrate around two opposite poles: becoming more personal & human, covering technical and “highly nerdy things” that world of commerce can’t be bothered with.

“Highly nerdy things:”
“There’s going to be an enormous number of data collection tasks that no one is going to do.” [Ed. Note: Ties in to archival work I think — emails from soldiers, not letters, etc. History being lost.] Combining heterogenous data sets. Example: hydrologists’ models of tsunami, geologists’ models of earthquake. Quake changes geography, not reflected in hydrologists’ models.

Human side: Reverence he had for reference librarians. “They were folks artists of human knowledge.” True these days? “Romanticize yourselves more. Huge cultural problem b/c we’re all nerds here.”

Talk over, now I’m going to play you some music on the khaen, from Laos. As someone commented on the Twitter backchannel, almost sounded like a modem.

“Ritual inconvenience – we’re good at that already. How do we get people to look at us like we’re Apple. Do we need a guru?” JL: You all have to become gurus. Think about our own lives, more attracted to people who are more obscure, more interesting.


2 thoughts on “ACRL 2011 – The Bipolar Library

  1. Thank you for taking the time and effort to post your notes from this important talk. I am not a librarian and I did not attend this conference, but when I found out that Jaron would be giving his thoughts on libraries (the future of which I think about frequently) I got really excited. I was anticipating video of the talk to be posted openly on the net, but since I have yet to find it, your (seemingly) thorough notes are by far the best guide for conference outsiders to Jaron’s presentation.

    1. Glad you found them useful. As I recall they don’t quite capture every point he made, but I did what I could. I don’t think there will be video of this talk on the open web; some conference sessions were recorded for a virtual conference, but from what I heard Jaron’s full talk will not be included in that, he only agreed to have “excerpts” included.

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