OK, so what are libraries then? As Matt asks, what is it that we can offer that is different and worthwhile when compared to Borderstones and Amaspace?
Answers on a comment please… all libraries welcome; let’s not make this about public libraries only.
My answer, copied from a comment to another post, is…
In looking at ‘information’ simply as the stuff in books/websites, and libraries as being about access to that information, then your view of libraries is narrowed. You focus on Google etc as competitors.
If libraries are only about the social, then no they can’t compete either; they don’t get the money or time. The mall can be made much nicer, even if they don’t always have what you want. You can get a coffee! And as the social is equated with the web, they can compete even less; why go to LibrarySpace when you can have MySpace?
Combining the social with the informational, Amazon is often quicker than libraries, has more clout and flexibility and lets you say what you think of books. So long as you are buying books.
I guess libraries’ ‘point of differentiation’ is that (in public library terms) they are public services. They are not beholden to shareholders. They are not limited to the profitable or even the pleasant areas, be they physical or informational. They do not always chase the latest. They will keep up as they can, but try not to leave people behind. They advocate access to information, to stories and to the community. When done well, they can represent the community to itself.
A last point is that libraries and librarians are (yes, ideally) committed to information, stories and community. Amazon et al., great though they are, are ultimately committed to themselves.
I appreciate this is very idealistic, but it is my honest answer. In my gut, I dont’ want information, sociability etc to be solely done by the shops and the software. And even if everything is distributed and rooted in radical trust, who owns the infrastructure and therefore the real power? Where is the analysis of power in discussions of “information”?