Sunday, November 7, 2010

Daddy, what's a library?

The USA became a “Super Power” for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons came from Mother Nature. Our ability to mine coal, drill for oil, produce steel and manufacture “hard goods” was something that other countries simply could not duplicate. Much of our success and blessings as a nation came from our winning the Mother Nature lottery.

General Motors was founded in 1908 in Flint, Michigan and grew to be the largest corporation in the world. Its market capitalization reached $50 billion in 2000. The story of General Motors is the story of America. “As goes GM, so goes the Nation” is the old adage. Plentiful access to coal, iron ore, and other natural resources allowed GM to be born – here - in the USA. Anyone ever hear of a football team called the “Pittsburgh Steelers”? How about the Houston Oilers? The “Beverly Hillbillies” would have never moved out west had it not been for Jed stumbling upon “Texas Tea” (Californy is the place you ought to be… as the theme song goes). But I digress.

A Carnegie library is a library built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Very few towns that requested a grant (and agreed to his terms) were refused. When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid by Carnegie.

The collections of the Library of Congress in Washington DC include more than 32 million cataloged books and other print materials in 470 languages; more than 61 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America, including the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, a Gutenberg Bible (one of only four perfect vellum copies known to exist); over 1 million US government publications; 1 million issues of world newspapers spanning the past three centuries; 33,000 bound newspaper volumes; 500,000 microfilm reels; over 6,000 comic book titles; films; 4.8 million maps; sheet music; 2.7 million sound recordings; more than 13.7 million prints and photographic images including fine and popular art pieces and architectural drawings. Ah yes, a library indeed worthy of a Global Super Power.

So, a “library” became the coal, the iron ore and other natural resource of the modern age. Just as you needed to physically “mine” these resources from the ground, back then you could only “mine” knowledge and education from books. Or, you needed to physically enter the buildings located on college campuses, universities and visit the libraries located in fortunate towns and cities. Major Colleges and Universities were judged by the size and depth of their libraries. Today, schools are judged by how “wired” they are – and high speed wireless broadband access is a must. “Professor, do we have an App for that?” Can I get that $75 biology or chemistry textbook on my Kindle or my iPad (for $3.95) via a 45 second wireless download? Can I listen to my Professor’s morning lecture on my iPod later, since I want to (gasp) sleep late today? *Parents, don’t kid yourself – it happens.

The “natural resources” of today can be found on the Internet. The affordable laptop or tablet PC, access to High Definition audio, web and videoconferencing have all replaced the librarian and the cards stacks. Move over Dewey Decimal System - can you say Google? Today, you don’t need to physically be located in the USA to enjoy the resources of the Library of Congress, or to access the resources of any library or museum. The world has truly become flat, and the playing field is more level today that at any other time in history.

I wonder what the USA would be like today if our precious coal mines and steel mills of the past 150 years were located in India, or in the Philippines or elsewhere? I wonder which countries will emerge as the new “Super Powers” over the next ten years? I don’t think that future global success will have much to do with the natural resources that Mother Nature blessed us with beneath the ground. The shift in power will be due to the wonderfully talented, hard working people living all over the globe. Those who truly care to learn – those individuals who truly have the will to grow and succeed will mine their “natural resources” from a totally new type of library. How will you engage and succeed in this new borderless world?

In closing, I am writing this blog on a Sunday morning from my local library. It is called Starbucks®. If Andrew Carnegie only thought of selling coffee for $4 a cup, the USA would now have as many libraries as coffee shops.

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