On October 16, Library Journal and School Library Journal will host “The Digital Shift: Reinventing Libraries.” Our fourth annual online event has itself been reinvented in a new format, offering program tracks focused around community, instruction, and getting beyond the container to new content.
Recorded Books is a gold sponsor of the event, and LJ reached out to Matt Walker, vice president of Recorded Books, in the second of a series of interviews addressing how the ongoing digital shift is transforming the libraries of today and tomorrow.
Library Journal: What do you predict will be the next big disruption/innovation to impact the library landscape?
Matt Walker: We are currently in the middle of a time of both great disruption and innovation. The difficult times brought on by the recession have forced librarians to do an extensive evaluation of how best to reach and serve their communities. As they have figured out how to do more with less they also defined a clearer path towards what the library of the future will be.
Libraries will continue to look for cost effective ways to embrace the digital age and expand the reach in the communities they serve. They will look for ways to further enhance community programming and provide products that are relevant and convenient to needs of modern day library users.
LJ: How does your company’s strategy reflect this?
MW: Recorded Books has made a concerted effort to convert from being a physical product company to having a balanced portfolio of both physical and digital offerings. Over the last three years our IT staff has grown ten-fold from a staff of four to a staff of forty. We have opened a dedicated IT office and bolstered our technical infrastructure.
With the help of our library partners we have introduced digital products under our RBdigital brand that offer patrons entertainment, lifetime learning and practical, affordable resources. Some of which include:
- Multi-Access digital magazines, which help meet the demand brought on by the explosive use of tablets.
- Thousands of multi access independent and classic films, all of which come with public performance rights to allow for programming use.
- Over 500 courses that appeal to the lifetime learner as well as offer Continuing Education Credits.
- Extensive Language learning of over ninety different languages that will serve even the most diverse communities.
- Test Prep (SAT, PSAT, ACT, PLAN, etc.). These courses provide a proven method for success to patrons of all income levels.
- Computer Software Training of all major products and versions.
- Ebooks, self publishing, foreign newspapers, legal support and more.
Of course, our core business remains audio books and we have made our quality recordings available digitally through our OneClickdigital platform. All our books are available on Apple computers/devices as well as PCs and Droid devices. All of these products can be used both remotely and in the library and are priced so that they are affordable to libraries of all sizes.
LJ: When, if ever, will libraries be primarily digital, and what will people still use print for?
MW: This story will reveal something about my age, but I thought it might be pertinent. Early in my career, the Customer Service group I was responsible for had just installed IBM Quad screens, which were connected to a main frame. Shortly after this I received one of the earliest IBM PCs (AT), and was told that everyone was switching to these. Since the Quad screens were new and very expensive I called a meeting with the IT department. The director of the department said to me, “One day everyone will have one of these in their homes,” To which I emphatically replied, “No they won’t, you’re dreaming!” Of course, everyone today has two or three in their home.
I tell this story not to demonstrate my inability to predict the future, but to illustrate how quickly technology changes our lives. This trend will certainly continue and libraries will not be immune to its effects. (It wasn’t that long ago that many people said ebooks would not be popular.)
However, I believe libraries will be well positioned to deal with these changes by offering electronic resources like those above, adding more programming choices, and devising creative use of freed up space.
Although libraries of the future will be much more digitally focused, their primary function may be to act as community centers, which serve patrons by offering a variety of resources and diverse programming.
The use of print materials will diminish but not completely disappear. Actually, libraries may end up being one of the few remaining places where people will be able to access a cherished collection of print books.
LJ: What do you hear from libraries that their greatest needs are, and how are you striving to meet them?
- Service. With the proliferation of multiple platforms and digital formats, libraries have told us that it is becoming increasingly difficult to help patrons through the myriad amount of technical issues. No one can be an expert on everything.
RB Solution: Our President, Rich Freeze has a motto that, “We will over-service these products.” Under his direction, we have taken the unprecedented step of establishing a customer service group which can be contacted directly by patrons via phone or email. This group will walk a patron through how to download a magazine or book on their older computer or device. This alleviates the burden on libraries to provide this service.
- Funding. We have been hearing for years that it can be extremely frustrating for our library partners when new formats are introduced. They have to find the funding to grow the new/future format while still maintaining the current popular one.
RB Solution: We bundle our CD books with our digital titles and offer easy ordering at reasonable pricing. Those customers who were already buying our CD books can add the digital title for a nominal amount.
- Integration. Libraries are very concerned about the end user experience, and want to reduce the number of ways patrons have to use to access their products.
RB Solution: We are working with the major ILS and discovery tool providers to see how best our products can be offered through their platforms. This takes time and will probably never be “one stop for everything,” but we are committed to working towards solutions.
LJ: What business will libraries get into that is undreamt of today?
MW: I know too many smart librarians to think that I can come up with something that is “undreamt” of today. I do think libraries of the future will have very extensive digital commons that offer access to and training for numerous devices, platforms, and services. This will be part of the bigger movement where libraries become even more active as community centers offering a variety of activities and in-house resources. The future for libraries remains bright!
Matt Walker, vice president of Recorded Books, LLC, started his career in international business at the World Trade Center in New York, and moved onto engineering services, where he spent time in Germany and Atlanta. His third and most rewarding career started in 2000: he has spent the last thirteen years working with public libraries in various capacities with Recorded Books. He and his wife Phyllis live in Southern Maryland and have three children.