Peter Brantley Lecture

The following are notes I took at a lecture I attended recently by Peter Brantley. The notes are a bit scattershot since Brantley spoke fast and I had trouble reading my own handwriting. I was impressed that he referred to a lot of current articles in his talk, so I’ve linked them where ever possible

DLF: What Rupert Could Tell Libraries

A lecture by Peter Brantley of the Digital Library Federation

Presented Jan. 24, 2008 at Harvard University

Generation Gap

Newspapers as a comparison point vs. libraries

  • Newspapers are similar to libraries in that they make information available and hold to higher standards and ideals unlike for-profit ventures
  • Newspaper ad revenue is plummeting, off line advertising is moving online, and the result is not good news for news
  • It’s hard to make money on online advertising
  • Three ways to build an online media business to $50m in revenue by Jeremy Liew, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Feb. 26, 2007
    • broad reach – To get to $50m in revenue you would need 50 billion pageviews in a year, or just over 4 billion per month
    • demographic targeting – To get to $50m in revenue you would need 10 billion pageviews in a year, or just over 800 million per month.
    • endemic advertising – To get to $50m in revenue you would need 2.5 billion pageviews in a year, or just over 200 million per month
  • Could the ‘Wall Street Journal’ go free? According to this data the WSJ would need to increase online traffic by 12 to offset loss
  • According to the New York Times: “The strategic challenge for newspapers is not cutting costs, but how to attract a larger share of online advertising and make money off the millions of people who read them free online.”
    • They Wish Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine?, Dec. 18, 2007
  • Newspapers are ignoring obvious opportunities to operate more efficiently
    • Example: The Tribune papers cut an Orland Sentinel reporter known for being the best writer on NASCAR in the nation. He now publishes a successful blog on his own. There’s no reason he couldn’t have done the same thing for Tribune and brought revenue and readership to the company’s websites and papers.
  • Your real competition by Ryan Sholin, Invisible Inkling, Jan. 11, 2008
    • The competition is the web, this is not the time to wave them off
  • Newspapers and libraries are part of a larger information landscape


  • Not good. Tragic. Staff cuts.
    • $23B zapped in news stock value by Alan Muter, Newsosaur, Jan. 1, 2008
    • Making Changes Sharon Waxman, WaxWord?, Jan. 10, 2008. Former Times reporter resigned to work exclusively on her blog. “To me, this is a very exciting time.”
  • The Search Party by Ken Auletta, The New Yorker, Jan. 19, 2008
    • The nature of media may change as libraries have
    • Eric Schmidt – internet allows users to consume media in a different way
  • Comparison of library metrics over the last generation
    • Reading room visits at Libary of Congress decreasing
    • ARL Reference Queries decreasing
    • Circulation decreasing
    • ILL requests increasing (people are borrowing more books because they can see more books)

What would Rupert Say to libraries?

  • Kick butt with warm, fuzzy internet spaces and new media centers
    • Gathering spaces for studey and group work
  • Outsource redundancy:
    • relocate library contract specialists to campus business service
    • other organizations catalog books and things so you don’t have to
    • build things that will advance core values

Core Values

  1. Making information publicly accessible
  2. Preserving a record of past and present
    • No one else will do these things

Libraries must now strut our stuff

  1. Help put education in the heads of those learning
  2. Assist scientists in the discovery of our world
    • Both are really about a new sensitivity to data
  • Intervene with simplicity
  • Embrace the unexpected
    • Example The de Havilland Mosquito, a WWII bomber that excelled when all the weaponry was stripped off so that the plane was faster than anything in the sky
    • Lesson: there is something to be gained by simplicity as opposed to complexity
    • Example: Use tags instead of complex metadata (although Brantley added that “good core metadata is important” when questioned on this)

Libraries Suck at Change

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 27: York/Liverpool

The day of 16 February 1998 was a wash. I intended to check my bag at the York railroad station and pay a visit to the National Railway Museum. Then I saw the queue of people waiting to have their bags hand-searched. I waited for 15 minutes without seeing the line move, so I gave up and went to the track for the first train to Liverpool. My waiting didn’t end because the train was heavily delayed. Then about 2/3’s along the journey everyone on the train was unceremoniously ushered onto a platform in some town I don’t recall the name of as the train went out of service. It was a long wait for the replacement train.

Arriving in Liverpool, I managed to get lost for a long time before finally locating the Embassie Hostel. The door was locked and no one answered the bell. From what I came to know of the staff later, I’d wager they were all asleep, but at the time I assumed the hostel was closed for the season. So I walked back into city centre and checked my bags at the station and paid a visit to The Beatles Story Exhibition. It was nice to cool my heels with two hours of Beatles memories.

With the sun going down, I returned to the task of finding a place to sleep. I was feeling exhausted enough that I seriously contemplated using my rail pass to take the longest journey possible by train just to have a place to sleep. Wisely, I called the number for the Embassie Hostel instead and discovered that they were indeed open and booked a room. Too tired to carry my bags on another long walk I took a black cab for the first time, the cabbie generously instructing me on the English rules of tipping (i.e. – don’t).

I received a warm welcome from Kevin, Jr. part of the father-son team who run the Embassie and was introduced to a number of other guests, most of them Australian. One guest named Argyle broke the mold of young, stylish Aussie travelers because he was a somewhat frumpy, 73-year old Australian who enjoyed telling rambling anectdotes. Two younger Australian women named Monica and Sabina asked me what word would an American use to describe a person who never stops talking. I decided chatterbox was the most polite term.

As a group we went on a pub crawl stopping for a quick pint in the elegant Philharmonic Pub and then to an Irish pub called Scruffy Murphy’s which was serving £1 pints. Here we joined even more Australians, including Tanya who worked at the hostel, and one local Scouser name Uncle Ian. Speaking of Premier League football, Ian informed me that Manchester United were a bunch of wankers and that I should support Everton (which I do to this day just because some guy in a bar told me to). We next went to the Jacaranda, a pub where the Beatles played some early gigs, for late night pints and dancing. I liked that the dance mix included James Brown and a lot of Liverpool bands including the Beatles.

Back at the hostel a bunch of us gathered around the table in the lounge for a long night of fun and conversation. Tanya, her friend John, and I managed to stay up until 7 am! The great night certainly made up for the lousy day.

Abbey Road Otter

The otter on Abbey Road.