II've been toying with an idea about how most libraries are run on an outdated business model. Essentially libraries are run as if there was a scarcity of access to knowledge.
Historically, we can say that the predominate way for society to mass communicate bodies of knowledge was through the book. The book had several drawbacks, including cost and physical storage requirements. Even after the invention of the printing press, it still required a significant investment in capital to produce a book. There was tremendous risk involved for publishers in the form of unsold inventory so they had to devise a way to ensure that the material they were publishing was of high quality. The best way to do that was to rely on experts to write books.
Relying on experts in a field provides several economic benefits. They represent the highest concentration of knowledge on a subject in any one individual. This would make it easier for a publisher to identify a worthy author. Also, because they were experts, it made marketing the book easier. However, this had a negative effect of blocking out a significant portion of the population from sharing their knowledge. This wasn't done intentionally; it was done because it was not economically feasible to gather input from an entire society.
With the advent of Web 2.0, we can now say that the effective cost of communicating and storing knowledge among individuals is rapidly approaching zero. We have the costs of the servers and the software, but those are subsidized by ads. Just look to the right of this post. For most people, communicating and storing knowledge is nearly free.
I am not saying that there is no place for experts, but their monopoly is fading rapidly, so that soon, they will have a much smaller market share.
However, we still have a majority of librarians focusing on the old model of scarcity. They decry many sites because they are not "authoritative", and they constantly push databases because they contain "unique" content. Even when more and more quality sources are provided freely online, we still have librarians steering people to services that they pay for. For many of them, it’s no longer about the best sources; it’s about the best sources that libraries pay for. It’s all about convincing our potential customers that there is a scarcity, when many of them know that it’s not there. Think about this, how much do librarians rely on database content to facilitate their day to day jobs? For most of us, we rely on listservs and web sites.
I think the recent spinoff of ProQuest had a lot to do with getting it ready to be purchased. Within the next 3-5 years Google will purchase ProQuest, modify the interface to include ads, and then make it freely available. Once that happens, much of what we are building our current business model on will erode. Then what will we do? Should we focus on creating knowledge communities?