Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Does the World Still Want Curators?

A curator is defined as 'a keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection'.  You can think of an independent bookstore as a curator of a book collection that you might want to buy. The staff actually read the books, and they know how to match books to their customers.  They can be instrumental in building readership for a new book because they stimulate that first groundswell of support in the first few months of release.  This is one of the points in this Huffington Post article about independent bookstores.  The article goes on to pay tribute to such bookstores' ability to create community around the people who frequent their bookstore, and to deplore the possible loss of such important community centres due to disruption of the bookselling and publishing business.

I think of newspapers in much the same way: the editors are curators of the news, selecting from a wide range of possible news items just which ones will be published in their newspaper.  They further create a community among the readers of the newspaper.  And they are equally threatened by disruptive forces.

But it's not only economic forces which are affecting the fortunes of these two businesses.  It's also cultural forces.   People increasingly lean on social media for recommendations as to what books to read, or what news to pay attention to.  As we rely on our friends we move into a deep spiral of self-reinforcement of our views.  Not that newspapers don't have a view themselves. They do.  But the best report the news objectively, try to be wide-ranging in their selection criteria, and give space to columnists of many different views.  Our friends don't usually do this.

In my humble view, the world needs curators for our intellectual input.  The title of this article was about whether the world wanted such curators.  Sadly I suspect now.

I'll be looking forward to part two from Huffington Post, which promises to offer suggestions of how independent bookstores can survive.

No comments: