Many possible takes on this picture. What comes to my mind first is the idea of the Attention Economy –The idea that in the days of the traditional library, before the Internet, information was a limited resource. Libraries could afford to work under the assumption that “we’ve got the good stuff, and our users have to to come to us to get it.” There was little motivation to improve overly-complicated search interfaces like the picture on the right above, because users had no choice. In the new environment of the Internet, however, the limiting factor is not information, but attention. The problem of users now is not finding information, but being flooded by too much information. In this environment, users naturally gravitate to the easiest information to find, which, of course, Apple, Google et al are glad to provide.

Another take on this is the high cost of Simplicity –The simple interfaces of Apple and Google are just the tip of the iceberg, built upon the costly labor of armies of engineers. Libraries just can’t afford to compete with this sort of juggernaut. Personally, I consider myself lucky, as a librarian, to be working in a medical library — Medical libraries have a long history of generous federal support, in the interests of the country’s health, which has enabled the creation of tools to streamline access to medical information, from Index Medicus to PubMed. For libraries generally, however, it’s still hard to compete with the resources of dotcom information providers. To end on a hopeful note — It’s encouraging to see that libraries are increasingly realizing the importance of providing Google-like interfaces for their catalogs, to gain back the attention from users that they’ve lost in recent few years.

The picture above, and the title of this post, are adapted from an article by Scott Monty — Thanks!

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey