People love Seth Godin. He’s ever so mildly inflammatory (without ever saying anything particularly daring) and always willing to predict what’s going to happen 30 seconds into the future. His new blog post fits in pretty cleanly with everything he usually writes. The internet is the future! Everything will eventually cost less than the button on your shirt! Things are happening faster than you can imagine! Okay, to be fair, he doesn’t use that many exclamation points. He just uses tons and tons of italics.
I don’t mean this as a takedown of Godin—promise. I think he’s well-intentioned and often on the right track. But I always react badly to something in each of his posts. Let us take this example:
“Want to watch a movie? Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library, than any library in the country. The Netflix librarian knows about every movie, knows what you’ve seen and what you’re likely to want to see. If the goal is to connect viewers with movies, Netflix wins.”
That makes my brain itch a little. Let’s unpack this: does Netflix have access to more DVD’s than any library out there? Possibly in terms of sheer variety, yes it does. And they’re very easily searchable. But in terms of the service knowing what you’ve seen “and what you’re likely to want to see,” Netflix depends on a sort of group-think and law of averages that, while often right, cannot factor in the individual. To wit, for every ten movies that Netflix think I’ll love (and I do), there’s at least one baffling choice that people with similar taste to mine appreciated because they were wrong.
It’s like saying that Wikipedia is a better encyclopedia than any other because of the sheer breadth of topics and variety of information. Which…holy crap! Back to Godin: “Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad).”
To be fair, like most of Godin’s posts, he comes around to a solid point: yes, the freer flow of information and data is making the role of the librarian different than it was in the past. Which I’m pretty sure anyone who has spoken to a librarian in the past five years was already aware of. (Why can’t I avoid being snarky any time I talk about him?) But here’s my thing: while there is cause to celebrate the ongoing spread of accessible and affordable literature and information, is the role of the librarian really being able to shepherd people through various ways of acquiring information? Or is it helping people identify what information is actually valuable?