Libraries for no one.

Nobody wears a watch any more.

Nobody uses the library, at least nobody I know. Isn’t everything online these days? Libraries will survive, as Godin suggests, by providing our services to nobody. It sounds contrarian, but we need to make this work.  A little parable from the art world is illustrative (thanks to The Awl):

(Mierle) Ukeles had proposed a series of projects to the Wadsworth Atheneum, one of which was cleaning out a mummy case, and one of which was cleaning the galleries….

So she shows up on the appointed night to clean. The museum has closed. She has the keys and gets her mop and bucket and whatnot and she realizes… that there really is no one there. Not even the curator is there to see her show….

….And finally, after a while, some art handler comes downstairs from where he’d been up late, packing art or messing around or something….

And so this lone guy is watching her perform/work, following her around, while she’s getting down in the corners with a rag or whatever. This goes on for ages. I imagine this being just like Night at the Museum but extremely boring. Finally, the place is clean, and he bursts into applause….

Year later she runs into him at a party, and he’s Mike Kelley, now a famous artist, and he tells her it was the greatest thing ever.

Librarians, in physical or virtual realms spend a lot of time providing library service to “nobody”. The important part is how we address ourselves to these nobodies. By providing competent service, we guarantee ourselves continued support from year to year, which is fine. However, if we are interested in actual human beings, then we should focus not only on the breadth of our impact, but on its depth, as illustrated by Ukeles.

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