Glocal Yokels

By Tom Peters | Glocal logoYears ago, the rallying cry, "Think globally, act locally," gained a certain popularity. It encouraged us all to consider the global, long-term consequences of our everyday actions, so we could then concentrate on making personal decisions and actions that were as socially, culturally, and environmentally responsible as possible.

The phrase then got boiled down to a single word—"glocal"— which, for some reason, always makes me think of the old phrase "local yokel" meaning a dull and gullible country bumpkin or clodhopper.

Over the past few years this glocalization mantra has taken on an interesting twist in librarianship. As the digitization of library collections and services has gained momentum, many libraries have found that their digital library collections and services have a user base far outdistancing how the library traditionally defines its core user population.

During the same period, funding for libraries has remained quite localized. Geographically, the actual user population is much more dispersed than the source of funding. Even for libraries that define their core user populations in terms of organizational affiliations, usage of their digital assets has seeped far beyond the defined core clientele. Many librarians want to serve globally, but they must be mindful of the fact that their funding often is very localized. If, or when, push comes to shove, the core population to be served comes not only first but also all the way to last.

In other words, increasingly the usage of digital libraries is out of kilter with the funding plan. Thinking globally but funding locally may be creating a major structural problem for libraries of all types. If this is indeed a problem—and I think it is—the landscape of possible solutions had two prominent features:
  1. Work to make usage of your digital library assets less global.
  2. Strive to make your funding sources more diversified and global.
A third possible solution, which really seems to be serving as the de facto solution for the moment, is to have a vague understanding among all digital libraries that all these imbalanced equations, between funding source and actual user population, ultimately even out when viewed... well, globally.

For example, although seventy-five percent of the usage of the Podunk Center, Iowa, Public Library digital library is from users beyond the local funding district, and although sixty-seven percent of the usage of the Hobart, Tasmania, digital library occurs offshore, everyone involved in funding, governing, and managing this global network of digital library collections and services implicitly agrees that library users worldwide benefit from this common practice of global clodhopping. It helps make the glocal yokels informed and energized netizens—unlike their dumb, sluggard local-yokel cousins of yore.

I imagine some librarians actively pursuing the first option. Their dominant argument may run something like this (I hope I'm not creating a straw yokel): After all, why should the great unwashed beyond our defined service population—who haven't paid a penny toward the development of our digital library—be the dominant segment of the actual user population?

I hope some library leaders are actively pursuing the second option, if they want to ensure that their digital library collections and services are accessible to, and usable by, all interested users—regardless of where they are situated on our blue planet.

I fear that the third possible solution cannot be sustained much longer. As funding and governing bodies become increasingly aware of this "problem," they will express their concerns and perhaps demand that something along the lines of the first possible solution be pursued. This will be a loss for the digital library movement as a whole and a blow to glocal yokels worldwide, a population that digital libraries can and should serve well.

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