Monday, June 27, 2011

Public Libraries: unprofitable, yet undefeated.

How does one measure success when discussing public libraries? Cardholders? Circulation? These measurements mean almost nothing in the business world.

Compare cardholders to cardholders and your library might feel like a business. Companies have credit card accounts that might mean something, unless the shoppers aren't buying, just as libraries have library card holders who may not be borrowing.

But item circulation? How does that compare to selling products? The only thing a library has for sale is... the professional librarian and library employees. The library doesn't sell paper towels and coffe; the library sells skillz.

You could say that the library sells FREE. That the books and computers and movies are free, and that's why people come. But if that were true, then how long could a library remain open after everyone looted the place? Librarians don't give away the things people want; we are caretakers for what people want. We are educated people who are motivated and committed to preserving this ongoing social experiment called the public library.

We are not Borders. We are not Kmart. We are not a company where shareholders need to be satisfied by some increase in their earnings or else they shut us down. For the most part, we are THE GUMMINT. We take your money and we do whatever the hell we want with it. And we went to school to know how.

Which brings me to Google Health and how it got the axe. Google shut down this very library-like service because "we weren’t able to create the impact we wanted with Google Health."

Here is a service that could benefit its users greatly. But it didn't do what Google expected, whatever that was. One opinion was that Google Health apparently failed because people want "something fun and engaging."

So people want social networking and cool stuff. Predicable. It doesn't matter that their health records could someday save their lives.

So where Google Health failed is that they didn't make tracking illnesses a game. Like FarmVille. But with viruses and cancers and blood-borne pathogens and erectile dysfunction.

So Google, since you know better now, why not make a game? If someone has their avatar hop around the board sleeping with all the other avatars, you could calculate what the odds would be for them to get AIDS, chlamydia, genital warts, whatever. So the game is for them to "sleep around" until they get sick. You could send vaccines to friends. And maybe they could buy power-ups like condoms or nutritional supplements or prayer to keep from getting knocked up or getting someone knocked up.

Or maybe your avatar could pursue perfection by getting tons of cosmetic surgery until your avatar goes insane. Or obesity, you could never exercise and get diabetes. Or take all the vitamins in the world, become vegan, do yoga, and still get hit by a bus. That sounds like a great game. Call it BodyFarm. But I get 5% of all ad revenue.

And that's the difference between for-profit corporations and libraries; the librarian doesn't need for you to be entertaining. We help, regardless.

The librarian is already there, being paid to present programs, to purchase materials, to preserve, collect, organize, index, categorize and whatever else that needs to be done to keep the information flowing. Thank THE GUMMINT.

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