Sunday, January 18, 2009

“When they don’t have really good results on YouTube, then I use Google”

This post's title came from words uttered by nine year-old Tyler from California, USA.

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.
Stagg B300-BK bass 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 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:
  1. Bring our booktalks and New Arrival alerts to services like YouTube.
  2. 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 :)


  1. "Similarly, when Tyler gets stuck on one of his favorite games on the Wii, he searches YouTube for tips on how to move forward."

    I wonder if he uses the Wii to search or a computer. My son likes to watch YouTube videos using the Wii because our tv screen is so much bigger than his laptop screen.

  2. Libraries need to understand that learning is a social process that involves conversations, whether in physical or virtual spaces. Simply providing access to information is insufficient for learning to take place. You can read about how to strum a guitar from a book, but ultimately, there needs to be interaction and practice with other guitarists for you to get better at it. I agree with the need for a shift toward services rather than content as the core of the library, though this will require a "Dewey-level" mindset change on the part of librarians. Imagine that if and when we perfect the e-book reader, we can have a cheap portable network terminal that's really a pleasure to read. Imagine too that all the digitization efforts have paid off and most physical books were available online, and through this reader. What would the impact on libraries be? Can librarians envision a library without books, for instance, or acknowledge that the book form is merely one of the artifacts of past conversations that are used to support services like activity-based clubs? Librarians who challenge the notion that libraries, in supporting activity based services, will be no different from community centers should note that the difference lies in the librarian. As Barbara Quint once noted, "a library is just what’s left over when the librarian goes home at night, like a coral reef just represents the activity of living coral." Similarly, a library is a result of the interactions among people to improve and enrich their lives through learning. And librarians are an important part of that ecosystem, because they can be counted on to be trusted partners who have the skills to help people make the best decisions.

  3. @Srcsmgrl - I have to admit I've not touched a Wii before. I didn't you can watch YouTube from a Wii. OK now I know!

    @ Aaron - very nicely put!

  4. Anonymous11:57 pm

    I like the idea of engaging the youtube community. Otoh, there is the issue of credibility/authority at hand. Using the bass guitar example... how many librarians could provide a credible presentation as concerns material as to how to learn to play bass, especially if they dont play themselves? The youtube community will shred things pretty fast, if there is doubt as to the authoritive nature of the source.

    On the other hand as a huge fan of research librarians, I have no doubt as to the info they provide... but thats as a middle aged techie/businessman. I dont know that I would hold the info in the same regard if it was in the bass guitar realm.

    Not sure why that is... Ie, I trust market data they have pulled up for me from any number of sources, and have made huge decisions based upon such info. Why would I be skeptical in the music arena... I dont have a good answer for that, perhaps its something you could address, is it misconceptions, is it crossing too many borders, is it something totally different?

  5. Hi Ron, I'd think the librarian on YouTube playing the bass can be one who's learning how to play bass. And sharing techniques from the book. Kinda like a booktalk with demo. So not so much as an expert but as an amateur or learner. Any librarian worth their salt will know they should not try to fake and pretend to be an authority :)

  6. Reading the Tyler story helped me to realize that Youtube has a lot of good advice on many things. I always thot it was mostly music and entertaining videos.

    But when I have IT related problems I can still go to my Foyers.

    Talking about the younger generation, I still cannot get my daughter read the newspapers :(

  7. Youtube is only good for certain stuff. In this instance, video games would certainly be far easier to look out for tips on.

    Similarly, I learned how to cook a simple dish on youtube. But as you say, there is only so far youtube can go. Should I one day, attempt to cook more complicated stuff, I would refer back to books. Or maybe I would just refer to my DS.

  8. I think you really hit the nail on the head here. Youtube is a great resource that continues to grow and offer a lot of good bass guitar lessons.

    You're also right by stating that it is more of a positive than a negative. For example, if a person can barely afford a bass how are they supposed to pay for lessons? If they watch youtube videos and start building a good foundation they do not need a 1-on-1 expensive tutor.


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