Dear Mark Cuban… some thoughts I’d like to share about libraries

January 28, 2013, 3:34 pm


This is an actual note that I sent:

Dear Mr. Cuban,

I’m a fan of Shark Tank. I’ve learned a lot from watching the panel evaluate business prospects. Thanks for making the show exciting and educational.


I wanted to share a note regarding your recent post Will Your College Go Out Of Business Before Your Graduate? There are a lot of conversations right now about where higher education is heading. I appreciate your focus on the business model aspect. As a father myself, the affordability of education is definitely on my mind too.


I’m writing because of a comment you made questioning why anyone would construct new libraries. Today, libraries are some of the busiest buildings on campuses across the country. As more and more information migrates to online platforms, library spaces are transforming into knowledge or content creation centers. They are hubs for collaboration, technology, and ideation. Many of the newly designed or renovated libraries resemble co-working office parks or startup incubators: they are highly flexible and adaptable environments suitable for a variety of tasks. And academic libraries are exciting places at night when students are hard at work brainstorming or developing assignments; their energy is inspiring and contagious.


Libraries still provide quiet zones too. Sometimes these are the only spots on campus where students can escape from distraction and really concentrate. Libraries offer this range of experiences from quiet reflection to high-octane teamwork.


Besides aspiring to provide amazing spaces, libraries are places where students practice and develop important skills, such as project management, problem solving, designing, coding, writing, prototyping, concept mapping, information evaluation, synthesis, and delivering on tight deadlines. Libraries are where students build, shape, and produce their ideas. They come in to explore and expand their capabilities, not just to access information. Libraries also enable students to become more effective at expressing their thoughts through programs on data, visual, and media literacies.


As you can see, libraries are many things to many people. While they seek to nurture creativity and cultural engagement, they are also hubs for productivity. They enable students to develop confidence and competence, as well as valuable skills and perspectives. Libraries help them to become better participants and contributors in our rapidly changing digital society.


That said, I agree with you in part. If colleges or universities are just building new libraries based on the old model, then they are making a poor decision. However, institutions that are financing future-looking libraries designed to be adaptive to the evolving needs of students and educators are making a great investment for their campus and communities.


Brian Mathews
Associate Dean
Virginia Tech, University Libraries


 Note to my regular readers.


Mark’s commentary is good. I encourage everyone to read and think about what he’s saying. Where’s the money going to come from when more and more people are priced out and loans become prohibitive?


Peter Thiel also has some provocative thoughts about the future of higher education that are worth reading. It’s important that we don’t just dismiss these types of insights as outsiders, but that we consider several scenarios for future planning. Disruption is coming – that’s why we need to think like startups and operate like R&D labs.


And BTW, I do watch Shark Tank every week. It’s my favorite show. The only thing that would be better is if IDEO had a program highlighting the design thinking process behind a different product each week. Or something like: “the next great industrial designer” reality show. Steven Bell and I would probably be the only ones watching. You can keep Honey Boo Boo, I want to watch people creating prototypes with pipe cleaners and exploring how to make better mops.


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