Does Print Still Matter? Brian Kenney on the Future of Content in a 2.0 World

By Michael Stephens | On Thursday, April 19th the Dominican GSLIS community came together for our annual Lazerow Lecture. I was especially excited because our speaker this year was my colleague Brian Kenney, editor of School Library Journal and a member of the 2nd University of North Texas Information Science IMLS-funded PhD cohort.

First SlideBrian's topic was an examination of the question: "Does print still matter?" He had some fascinating, thought-provoking, and almost scandalous things to say, including the fact that print is not going away just yet -- it will be around awhile. There will, however, be "a movement away from print that will be erratic, chaotic, likely to escalate in surprising ways, and, more than anything, be tremendously disruptive."

The shift way from print, Kenney noted, is user-driven and is creative, full of unimaginable potential, and just plain fun to watch. I think that's why I am enjoying this moment in time -- as the world changes with the Social web and all the implications for society the change carries. We haven't even discovered the new uses for sites like Flickr, or the untapped promise the librarians experimenting with Twitter may find. Who knows how YouTube will be used in the future by historians or researchers?

Kenney speaks at Dominican UniversityKenney focused on three main areas:

The New Content

Kenney highlighted blogs as part of the mechanisms creating the new content. He noted that he reads the Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan...and pondered the future uses of blog content:

"Were I at a virtual reference desk in twenty years, speaking to a researcher studying any number of topics--attitudes towards the Iraqi war, conservatism in America in 2006, gay marriage and Roman Catholicism--I could think of no better primary source to share with them than the Daily Dish."

Kenney also highlighted Pink is the New Blog: "Remember Ranganathan's fourth law, save the time of the reader? ...Trent doesn't just re-report the news, he contexualizes it, comments upon it. It's the ultimate "value-add." In a nod to the debate about 'real journalism' versus bloggers Trent sets apart, through color, the text he has lifted and his own commentary."

The Corporate Response

NY Times tag cloudKenney discussed the move by The New York Times into the 2.0 world: "...once on the site, stickiness abounds. Comments are invited on features. Video and audio extend the text content." Kenney noted there are over two dozen blogs integrated throughout the site, ranging from "Bats," about the upcoming 2007 baseball season to "On the Runway," offering a behind-the-scenes look at the fashion industry. "Most significantly," he said,"other users serve as guides to Times content. Tag clouds crop up. You can view the most popular articles by those most emailed, those most blogged, or by most popular search terms."

This integration of the user experience--and opinion--radically changes
the construct of the traditional newspaper, which has relied on an editorially created hierarchy based on placement within the publication.  "Real estate, in print, is everything, that and the font size of headlines," Kenney said.

He also highlighted the recently redesigned SLJ site, that features blogs school media specialists, such as Chris Harris and Diane Chen, as well as other useful technologies: RSS and planned wikis among them.

The Missing Guest

The missing guest at this new party? Books!

Where is the Wilson Index to YouTube?Kenney conducted two focus groups, one in midtown Manhattan with a group of finance and legal people, the other in his own neighborhood
in Queens with teachers, professors, and actors. Both groups contained five people, gender was overall evenly distributed, and the average age was 36. They discussed the use of books in their lives.

Kenney reported that what emerged from both groups was nearly identical: Books are a problem because they're so heavy, they told him. You can't carry many of them around. You can't integrate the information among them. They don't link to each other, and worst of all, you can't integrate them into the rest of your work.

Kenney noted his groups did not like the fact that books go out of date so fast. One participant asked: "How many times do I have to buy the same book over and over?"

"Obviously," he quipped, "These people haven't weeded some of the school libraries out there."

Kenney went on to discuss e-books and reported on the popularity of the electronic versions of Harlequin romances. "Harlequin offers both audio and e-version of its books, and have found a real divergence in readership between the formats, with the e readers buying more of the traditional series titles." He asked Harlequin's Pam Laycock why are these readers choosing the e-version? She noted that their research says readers like them because they read a lot of books, and these are easy to store and carry.

Finally, Kenney summed up with an inspiring look toward the future and some charges to librarians:

We need to fear draconian digital rights management. Because what we librarians will need to do is get into these textbooks, and supply the ancillary texts, attach memoir and fiction, create the links out to primary resources, to make these books more than just "ebooks" but the rich digital learning environments that they can be.

In moving from print to digital, in dismantling our print scaffold, we are creating chaos, a wild west of content. Never before have our skills--to find, evaluate, describe, collect, connect, make accessible, and preserve--been needed.

Our landscape is dominated by corporations seeking to capitalize on this content shift, and we alone represent such issues as uninhibited access to information, freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and the experience of the end user, whether that user is ten years old or seventy.

We just need the creativity, the courage, and the daring to continuously reinvent ourselves for this new world.

The students, faculty, GSLIS alumni and guests from the Dominican community enjoyed Kenney's entertaining and thought-provoking talk. Thanks to Brian for joining us on campus to share his thoughts!