Third part of a virtual roundtable for OCLC NextSpace:

Specifically, how do you see it [online social networks] affecting libraries/museums? Right now, and in the future?

The question might be rephrased as how will the online affect the offline and vice versa.

We’ve seen vividly how the frictionless movement of information and goods is affecting the world economies. How the music industry while trying to mount a resistance is in meltdown. How publishing and reading has been changed in what seems for the near term to be irreversible ways. Ask the encyclopedia folks. Ask a small textile town in the Southern US.

If libraries and museum act on their heritage as places for intellectual improvement and social interaction and cultural cohesion, there is a great future for them.

If they act as warehouses for cultural treasures as interpreted by the dominant culture, their days are numbered.

Academic libraries lead public libraries in the transition since more and more academic knowledge is shared digitally more quickly than popular knowledge. But this is only for the moment.

In the past few months, I have been in meeting with several different groups planning small town museums and cultural destinations. All of them talk more about services and events and involvement of the public than about amassing treasures in the traditional sense.

Online, whether social or no, distributes access to the treasures widely and without much friction. The online social networks can, if wisely participated in, increase the value of the institution and to the access of the original.

Oddly, digital access creates a fetish for the original, a desire to see the object up close, a need to meet the person who wrote those words or is represented by that avatar.

Cultural institutions are challenged to find creative and effective ways to exploit this need to meet, to see the original, to follow discussions with physical actions, to enhance the social.

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