They can't survive as community-funded repositories for books that individuals don't want to own (or for reference books we can't afford to own.) More librarians are telling me (unhappily) that the number one thing they deliver to their patrons is free DVD rentals. That's not a long-term strategy, nor is it particularly an uplifting use of our tax dollars.Godin's words have not fallen on deaf ears (e.g., here, here). However, given the number of people that read his blog, we'll have to raise our voices loudly to ensure that our message that libraries are needed is heard.
Yes, Seth (if I may call you that), libraries do house books that people don't want to own. Instead, they want to borrow them, along with other materials. And if you hadn't noticed, libraries are providing a ton of information online -- including access to materials that they are digitizing -- that people are indeed accessing. We haven't been solely about books for a very long time.
We already do a lot of training. We train users to use online tools, computer programs, and information resources. People use our training to help them understand how to use the computer to find a job opportunity and then complete the online job application. Students of all ages use their public libraries to locate information. Some, who lack computer access at home, use the computers at the library in order to work on assignments, etc.
We also provide community space. 200 years ago, many communities used the town square as their common space. Now one of the last community common spaces available is the library.
Seth, it is likely that you heard about the SLA Alignment Project when you spoke in Seattle and maybe that has colored your view of libraries. Libraries and librarians are indeed changing. We're outside of the library and using our skills in different areas, especially in corporations. Some librarians are now embedded in specific departments. Even some academic librarians are embedded in classes and departments. But this does not deminish the importance of a room, a bulding or an institution called "a library".
Oh...you did say that, "The information is free now. No need to pool tax money to buy reference books." While lots of information is free, you evidently would be amazed at how much isn't. I know, you are giving away books and making a lot of content available on the Internet for free. You are still the exception and not the rule. There is a tremendous amount of content that people need that libraries purchase on their behalf. Here in New York State, our State Library spends millions of dollars each year in order to license databases for all New Yorkers to use through their libraries (or via NovelNewYork.org).
Seth, you don't allow comments on your blog posts, but I know you track who has linked to your blog. I hope you'll follow the links to your "The future of libraries" blog post and read what people are saying. Given the power that your blog has, maybe you'll consider doing a follow-up post about what you have heard and learned.
Finally, given that I'm on a statewide committee that focuses on libraries, I'd be more than willing to put you in touch with people -- even our State Librarian -- so you can hear more about what libraries are doing. Call me.