I want to explore an idea.
I've read about four blog posts in the past week that talk about how libraries are going to manage to keep our users "interested" in libraries (of course, there was also a nay-sayer who remarked "they're already uninterested"). We want to make our catalogs more like Amazon, encourage social tagging, et cetera et cetera. But WHY?
If we've already resigned ourselves to the idea that not everyone in the world, or even most people in the world, care about libraries, why are we fighting so hard? Libraries have never ever been for everyone. They've been for scholars, for researchers, for the rich (who, subsequently, have lots of free time to be scholars and researchers). Why is this a bad thing? Is it because we're disenfranchising people? Do the people feel disenfranchised when they're denied access to a college library? They already don't want to come in, but I suppose people feel like they just need to go somewhere when they're not allowed. So keeping all these libraries open to the public is probably only keeping people away. They'd be banging down the doors if they felt like their rights were being infringed upon and we were trying to keep them out.
Anyway, that's not my point, really. My point is that we're trying to make libraries the coolest place around, where everyone will flock and love books and reading. But libraries have NEVER been that way, and the majority of people have NEVER been that keen on reading. I feel like we're trying to make people think that the library is something it isn't. At the core, libraries are about providing knowledge to a group of people (be it the public or a select group). But as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him read.
Why are we trying to be like Amazon? Because people like Amazon better than they like libraries? Is this a popularity contest? I've never really found Amazon's search interface any more efficient than anyone else's--but people like Amazon because it allows them to buy lots of useless junk for themselves. A library will never offer that kind of service. A library, even with a cool interface and lots of gadgets, will still just offer you books and multimedia, for 2 weeks. Sure it's free, but you still go to a library to LEARN. No one goes to Amazon to learn, they go there to shop.
I know that public libraries were started as a means of "educating" the people of the nation who were not "privileged" enough to get education on their own. But no one asked the people if they wanted it. And since all things are self-selecting, libraries will continue to have problems with attracting patrons because people self-select themselves out of going to the library, or learning, or being engaged in their world, or doing research. Knowing what's best for people isn't always enough to get them to come to the library. And I'm sorry to say, adding folksonomies and social tagging and bright lights and chat windows isn't really enough to get them to come to the library, either, because you can't play video games, shop, or eat food at the library.
Don't get me wrong, I know that libraries serve a very unique and important role in our world--the preservation of knowledge is one of the most needful things, especially in today's society where we throw everything away. And if we're going after new search strategies and technology for the pursuit of that knowledge, then I'm all for it. But...if we're pursuing this new technology just so that we can feel like we're "cool", then I think we're doing it for the wrong reasons, and in any case, that technology will probably fail to do what we want it to. I hate to break it to everyone, but libraries just aren't cool. Important, yes; cool, no.