Libraries are supposed to be all about sharing. Granted there is the line between public library sharing of community resources and academic libraries that often have more archival purposes in their missions. That said, are we good sharers? Could we share better? This question comes out of a lot of things I’ve been reading recently.
1. The USA Today article about Wikipedia and the distinction it draws, sharply, between the authority of print and the authority of the collaborative web. However, I think there is another distinction being drawn about the immediacy and responsiveness of the collaborative web versus the responsiveness of print. If an article in print was found to contain inaccuracies, how quickly would they be fixed? I’m aware that there is a more rigorous fact-checking process for much of what winds up in what we consider authoritative print, but not always. Wikipedia is also often chock full of citations. I won’t go to the mat for Wikipedia as the end-all be-all of reference materials, but I will say that the idea that we are all responsible for what is real, authoritative, and true is a powerful idea, and not one that I think is heavily subscribed to by information gatekeepers.
2. The “library as box” mentality. The idea of outreach is to get the library into places in the community that may not otherwise make use of the library. It also serves to get librarians out of the library. Many librarians are “out” in their community but many are not. At my old public library job, there was a clear benefit to having reference librarians who had lived in town for decades. This was much more important than my technology knowledge, though the two complemented each other strongly. I know it’s a crazy idea but I’d think that all big libraries should have librarians who don’t work in the library at all. Bookmobile drivers and dog and pony show people, but also people who staff information desks at community events, hang out with seniors at the senior center and kids at the battered women’s shelter. The web forced us as a profession talk about “outside the box” service, but shouldn’t we have been thinking about that all along? My job takes me to many libraries and technology centers and I find that an important part of my job is the bardic role of telling librarians and computer users about other librarians and computer users, sharing their stories. One of the most important parts of grappling with frustrations and setbacks is realizing that it’s not just you, that you’re not alone. Part of the divide in the digital divide is people not knowing anyone or any place where they can go get answers to tech questions, or even if their questions are easy or hard.
3. Content creation. The whole 2.0 thing in general seems to be about using the hive mind and the affordances of technology to synthesize newer, better and more useful systems that then become available for everyone. Libraries have historically been places to receive information but with some rare exceptions, less places to contribute information. Blogs and wikis and tag clouds, all the stuff we prattle on about are good for reading or reading about, but they reallly shine through use. I had the pleasure of having a brief but intense talk with Andrea and Kevin Dames at Internet Librarian. Kevin turned some of this talk and thoughts of his own into an idea: Multimedia Information Centers where people can “mashup” the library, both creating content for themselves but also through incentives, contests and enthusiasm, roll that content right back into promoting the library. I like the ouroboros ideas where the investment that you put in comes back out to you on the other side.
So? I’m not sure. I think one downside to the blog blowup is that sometimes it’s easy to put an idea out there online and think “Good, I got the ball rolling, now someone can pick that up and run with it.” This is especially hard if we’re in jobs or situations that don’t allow us the freedom to explore the ideas we have or, in some cases, if our ideas don’t jibe with our institutions learning and sharing styles. I like being a philosophizing librarian, but I also think it’s important to meet the people who your ideas trickle down to, see how and why they repurpose it, or how and why it works or doesn’t work. Our patrons share their hopes and dreams and foibles and ambitions with us all the time, it may be time to give back, become more interactive and collaborative, make that door swing both ways. This is what Library 2.0 means to me.