Libraries for the future

I spent most of my youth and childhood hanging about in public libraries and reading their books. In fact I blame libraries for most of my quirks these days, since it was there that I was exposed to dangerous ideas from philosophers, historians and fiction authors. The local, school and state libraries provided a welcome haven away from my rowdy siblings at home and the somewhat unpleasant school bullies of my youth.

Last week I was lucky enough to join a distinguished panel at the State Library of NSW to discuss the future of libraries. The event was the Futures Forum 2010 (PDF of media release available here).

The panel and assembled librarians were considering the possible futures for libraries in NSW – looking at these via the The bookends scenarios : the future of the Public Library Network in NSW in 2030 (PDF copy of the scenarios available here).

The booksellers on our panel were very worried about the impact of e-books and readers such as Kindle or iPad on their existing business of selling physical books.

This concern is no surprise with the rapid shift of consumption towards virtual rather than physical media for both books and audio. It seems very clunky to buy a CD for music now when I can just download the music I want to my mobile phone. It’s not hard to imagine the same scenario for books once equivalent reading devices are more widely available.

Another feature of the shift to virtual goods instead of books is the growth of recommendation engines and the ability to share our enthusiasms widely and immediately via social networks.

Thus if I love a new book, article or song it is easy to share it was all my contacts via Facebook or Twitter with a click or two. And interested parties can acquire it almost immediately based upon my recommendation. Thus the role of the mediators (like booksellers) is being replaced by the broader community of my social connections.

The growing hyper-connectedness facilitated by the internet and our connected devices make sharing of media a communal thing. In the same way that we pass physical books and CDs around amongst our circles we are sharing our passion and interests for virtual media.

Libraries are either going to adapt or go the way of the dinosaur. Judging by the level of thinking, debate and discussion I saw last week, my money is on adaptation.

Of the future scenarios considered, the one I see as most probable is that libraries become shared community spaces providing a hub for local activities and collaboration.

Have you been to your local library lately? Why not get along and check it out?

ANZAC – a New Zealand view

A good example of the fellow feeling across the Tasman for ANZAC day and all that it means is the speech by the New Zealand Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, at the 2004 ANZAC Day Dawn Service:

“The presence of so many children and young men and women at ANZAC ceremonies is a stark reminder of the youth of those who fought for us. Look at them and wonder at the fears of their families, at their terror as they faced fierce fighting and watched their friends die. Listen to these words written to mark the evacuation in 1915, by a 23 year old Australian soldier-poet Leon Gellert, a combatant at Gallipoli.

[The Last to Leave, written by 23-year-old Australian soldier-poet Leon Gellert, a combatant at Gallipoli, to mark the evacuation of the peninsula in 1915.]
The guns were silent, and the silent hills
had bowed their grasses to a gentle breeze
I gazed upon the vales and on the rills
And whispered, “What of these?” and “What of these?”
These long forgotten dead with sunken graves,
Some crossless, with unwritten memories
Their only mourners are the moaning waves,
Their only minstrels are the singing trees
And thus I mused and sorrowed wistfully.

Lest we forget.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.”

Freedom – price or cost?

Many people have told me that freedom has a price. While others have told me that freedom has a cost. It got me thinking about the difference between a price and a cost.

While pondering about this I recalled the Oscar Wilde quote: “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.”
Perhaps value is only perceived in relative rather than in absolute terms? How do we know freedom is a good thing unless we know that repression exists? Freedom is precious. But the true value of freedom is only known in relation to un-freedom.

Starting with a dictionary, the definitions are:

Price: “agreed exchange value, that will purchase a definite quantity, weight, or other measure of a good or service”

Cost: An amount paid or required in payment for a purchase; a price. Or the expenditure of something, such as time or labor, necessary for the attainment of a goal.

Thus it seems that both groups of people are right when they talk about freedom. It has an agreed exchange value (a.k.a. price), which is the expenditure of something (a.k.a. cost) to attain a goal.

But since freedom is not tangible (sometimes it is easier to see freedom by its absence) and it can easily be whittled away without us noticing.

Freedom is under attack all over the world. Rules, laws, things meant to protect us all chip away at freedom. Each little chip has a plausible reason, when taken in isolation. However, the sum total of the overall pattern is reduction in freedom.

What have you done today to defend, protect or extend freedom?  What is the price of freedom?  And what cost are you willing to bear?

The importance of role models who look like us

On Wednesday evening I attended the retirement dinner for a mathematics teacher whom I’ve known and respected for many years.  I will not mention him by name as he’s a very shy and private individual.

This gentleman and his wife migrated to Australia over twenty years ago from Malaysia to work as teachers and to bring up their family here.  In many ways it is the classic migrant success story.  Their children and grandchildren are growing up in the multicultural Australian way that blends diverse cultures.

It was a lovely celebration of a professional life that had a positive impact on many young people.  Many of the attendees stood and recounted their memories of their life with him at the school.

However, one story in particular stood out for me.  A young mathematics teacher stood to tell of his days as a student in classes with this gentleman.  He noted that, apart from being a great maths teacher, this gentleman had inspired him as an example of what a man should aspire to be.

Further, the young teacher noted that when the time came for him to decide upon a career, it was this gentleman who also inspired his decision to become a teacher.

What is interesting about this story is that the young man is an Australian of Asian heritage. And he noted the impact of having a male role model who looked like him – of Asian heritage – in helping him to decide to become a teacher.

This story made me think of all those people who say to me – why do we need role models who are ‘women’ or ‘ethinic’ – i.e. why aren’t white male role models sufficient?

It is very simple. We need to see people who look like us doing things to help us to see the possibilities for us.

In this case a young man looked about to see which role models he could find, and he found a good one.  Now we have one more good role model for young men. And a young man has dedicated his life to teaching our young people as a result.

Now that’s what I call a virtuous cycle 🙂

Social business, culture and value creation #sbs2010

I attended the Social Business Summit today in Sydney and had the privilege of being on a panel that discussed Transparency – Risk To The Business Or Not?

small-rabbit.jpgApart from Nicholas Gruen’s excellent incorporation of Hayek into his discussion there was much food for thought. A copy of my slides is up on Slideshare.

In particular, the idea that brands and financial value are created in large part by organisational culture resonated for me.

We’ve been conditioned by the bean counters that value in business is created by a mechanical process of creating and selling products or services.

But that mechanical process rests upon human beings doing things. Human beings work out what to do based on cultural norms. And workplaces have very strong and resilient cultures.

I had a great example of the resilience of organisational culture last year. When I returned to a place where I’d worked almost a decade ago it was surprising to see how little the culture had changed since that time. In spite of many corporate change programs over the years (and probably lots of funds invested in those programs) the culture was essentially the same as when I’d left.

There is nothing wrong with that (actually that organisation has a pretty nice culture); but it was a graphic demonstration of how resilient it was in the face of efforts to change the culture.

It is clear to me that the creation of value by organisations rests upon the corporate culture. The culture drives the manner and form by means of which the products or services are created.

Zappos is the great example of how creation of a particular kind of corporate culture also drove creation of a highly valuable brand.

This kind of example means that sensible people in leadership positions need to be thinking about how they can work with the existing organisational culture to create more value for their brands.

Transparency in business – so what?

This coming Thursday, 25 March, many folks will be attending the Social Business Summit in Sydney.

I will be on a panel discussing Transparency in Business – Risky or Essential?.

The debate will be moderated by Headshift’s Anne Bartlett-Bragg and Robin Hamman and the panel members are Nicholas Gruen (Gov2.0 TaskForce Chair); Sherre Delys (ABC Radio National), and me.

This topic has really got me thinking about transparency in business. It’s very much in vogue these days, with many people arguing for radical transparency. And I’ve been re-engaging with Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies at the same time.

An open society seems to me to be a necessary precursor to transparency; but there are so many barriers to openness and transparency. But then there is the question of who benefits from transparency – how do the different stakeholder groups benefit or suffer from transparency? These are all questions about power relationships and the nature of hierarchical relations.

So much to think about. But the question that keeps coming back to me is “transparency – so what?”

Digital citizens need real world knowledge too

It was fascinating to be at the inaugural Digital Citizens event in Sydney last week – the topic was: Private Parts: Personality and Disclosure – Finding a Balance in the Digital Space.

There was a great line up on the panel with visiting US lawyer and social media specialist Adrian Dayton (Social Media for Lawyers), Sam North (Ogilvy PR), Damian Damjanovski (BMF), and Renai LeMay (Delimiter), all wrangled expertly by the moderator Bronwen Clune (Strategeist).

It was a very thought provoking session with the panel and audience discussion. And the big takeway for me is that social media and its practitioners need to accept that we live within a particular social and legal context.

No matter how much we ‘social media’ types decry how poorly the law is setup to deal with what we do everyday, that is the situation we must deal with. The law moves much more slowly than changes in technology, and, upon consideration, maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

For example, Damian Damjanovski argued: “A lot of people out there use it as a personal communications method. There are lots of people with no more than 70 followers . When did we get to the point that this is suddenly publishing and should be treated as such?”

The fact is ordinary people are doing something that was once privileged – publishing. We are publishing content in many places now in the same ways that publishers (who have lawyers vetting much of their content) have for years.

Now that everywoman and everyman is a publisher we need to understand the rights and obligations that come with publication. We are no longer having a chat about something over dinner or at the pub with a bunch of mates. We are posting content (pretty much) for perpetuity and complaining when there are legal ramifications associated with that act.

It all made me think that perhaps a good topic for another Digital Citizens session would be about the legal issues associated with the act of publication on the web? Since, while Adrian Dayton was great, it would have been handy to have Australian lawyer on the panel.

A brief write-up of the event is also available on mUmBRELLA