Reading this New York Times article, I wonder how many Singaporean kids are like Tyler. Perhaps we'll be referring to them as the YouTube-generation rather than the Google-Generation.
Similarly, when Tyler gets stuck on one of his favorite games on the Wii, he searches YouTube for tips on how to move forward. And when he wants to explore the ins and outs of collecting Bakugan Battle Brawlers cards, which are linked to a Japanese anime television series, he goes to YouTube again.
While he favors YouTube for searches, he said he also turns to Google from time to time.
Educating the Google and YouTube Generation
I think the most obvious response from public libraries would be that being part of the "Google generation" doesn't necessarily mean that one is an expert searcher (check this out).
And this reminds us that there's a role for public librarians to play in educating the young (I still encounter 13 year-olds who only refer to a URL in evaluating websites rather than contextual information -- and they evaluated it wrong!)
Trend towards searching for Multimedia content
However, this does not address the fact that while Tyler's behaviour may not be mainstream (yet) his preference for videos is reflective of how most people learn best via multi-modal: watch, hear, read, and do.
With services like YouTube, this trend -- of searching for multimedia content first -- can only increase.
I should know.
I was inevitably drawn into it.
How I learned the basics of playing an electric bass
After I bought my bass guitar, I wanted to borrow some books from the library -- the same way I've done more than a decade ago when I was teaching myself how to play the guitar.
(Actually my preference would have been to learn the basics from another bass guitar player).
The library was closed and my computer was switched on and connected to the Internet.
I searched via Google (not YouTube; guess I'm still "semi old-school") and found this site (from ExpertVillage.com). Within minutes, I was progressively introduced to various ways in playing an electric bass guitar (today, they have a YouTube channel).
From then on, I've not picked up any books on playing the bass guitar.
Does that mean the library is irrelevant?
In my case, it's unlikely that I'd look for materials at the library. And I'm speaking as a librarian.
I emphasise "my case", as learning needs differ from person to person. However, my gut-feel says most bass guitar players in my position won't really want to look for more references on "how to play bass". What I need most is to practice.
Rather than find more things to read, I'd prefer to jam with like-minded bass players to pick up tips. It's unlikely that I can find bass players that easily (not to mention finding the same time to meet) so no surprise that I'll continue to turn to YouTube videos.
Like public libraries, the content is free to use. But unlike the library, YouTube videos can be accessed anytime, On-Demand.
Public libraries should not complete but leverage on Google and YouTube
Public libraries can -- and should -- continue to bring in quality materials on the subject.
But we should not keep saying "our content is more credible and authoritative". To me, that smacks of elitism and denial.
I feel public libraries should try to compete with the likes of Google and YouTube by trying to bring in "more" or say that we have "better" content.
We first have to acknowledge that in certain areas, the Internet offers far richer and more accessible content than public libraries can. Find out what those subjects and areas are, and work our selection policies around it.
Then for those areas, we can do two things:
- Bring our booktalks and New Arrival alerts to services like YouTube.
- Shift the library's focus from content-only to services and face-to-face networking
Booktalks and New Arrivals in YouTube
The librarian can post a video (e.g. introducing a book on playing the bass guitar) as a "video response" to a Youtube video on playing the bass guitar.
Notice I wrote "Librarian" rather than "Library". I'd suggest it's more effective to have a librarian post a response rather than an institution. Although both are ways to publicise the library collection, the latter seems more like blatant advertisement in my view.
I've no videos to show what this sort of video should look like. As it's not the mere transposing of a written review to video format, then something simple might suffice. Like, a librarian introducing a book on playing the bass guitar, highlighting why its worth checking out. The video doesn't have to win Oscars. Just offer it in good taste.
Perhaps more interesting would be to video a librarian with an actual bass guitar, performing techniques from the book. Or offering suggestions by sharing the experience from learning from the book AND from YouTube videos.
Face-to-face networking services
That was a fancy way of saying "start a club for people interested in music".
Libraries are typically associated with book-based clubs. I think it's high time public libraries venture into "activity-based"ones.
A club for bass guitar players would be too narrow in focus. But why not a "amateur musician club". This could be facilitated by a librarian or a library volunteer. Each session would be a mix of loosely structure talks and demos (I'm reminded of meetups like the Singapore Ruby Brigade, WebSG, and what Kevin shared at the library).
Although I'm not interested in developing my bass playing skills in the immediate future, that doesn't mean I'm not interested in picking up additional tips from people who play bass.
More important, I'd like to meet like-minded musicians, particularly "my own kind", i.e. working adults who dabble in music on the side.
Google and Youtube are my friends
The popularity of Google and YouTube are problems for the library -- IF we do not do anything in response to them.
But if we review and adapt our service offerings by leveraging on those services, I'm confident public libraries and librarians will continue to have a place in a networked world.
I can't help but think that when some librarians make disparaging comments about Internet resources, they are actually saying "I don't like my job being threatened".
The truth is, we can see Google and YouTube as threats or as opportunities.
If it's more of a threat than opportunity, then librarians have to be open to the possibility that we will be fewer in numbers -- and plan accordingly. Maybe that sounds bleak. I call it "being prepared".
Still, I don't see the future of librarianship as bleak. For now, I see Google and YouTube as friends of a librarian.
And I'll continue to refine my guitar playing.
Who knows: one day some kid -- who wants to learn how to play a bass guitar -- will go to Youtube because they can find a librarian there :)