SFPL and the idea of network

I wasn’t sure what to do yesterday afternoon in San Francisco, so I went to the library. The downtown San Francisco Public Library has a number of interesting exhibits

  • Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album – Featuring Personal Albums Documenting the 1906 Earthquake and Fire
  • The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot of 1966: 40th Anniversary Commemorative Exhibit
  • Kalligraphia 2006: An Exhibition by Members of the Friends of Calligraphy

You can see a few of my pictures on Flickr with the SFPL tag. While I was there, I ran into a few people I sort of knew and made some plans and hung around.

Today I went to brunch with a few of my favorite librarian pals and then I went for a long walk. I left my camera and laptop at home. Since I don’t have a cell phone, this meant I was totally untethered to any of the devices I often have around me to connect me to my larger network. Sure, I had a list of phone numbers in my pocket and I’ve long since memorized my calling card number, but in general I was on my own. In Vermont I’m on my own a lot, but I’m often tethered. I have a camera, laptop, Internet, loaner computer, whatever. When I’m on the network I chat with friends, answer reference-type questions, respond to work emails, consolidate and aggregate and clean data, take notes, look at pictures, share pictures, contribute to Wikipedia, write presentations, coordinate projects, make plans.

I’m also often with Greg, and when we’re together, we co-experience many things in that “Look at this neat rock I found” sort of way. I realized today as I was walking alone with no particular destination on a lovely sunny day in a beautiful city that even while I was on vacation from the many things that I do when I’m connected, there was a sense in which I missed being in the network because I feel so darned useful when I’m there. Not that I’m not useful to the person on the street corner trying to figure out where Trader Joe’s is, or that I’m not useful to ME by getting sun and exercise. However, there is a sense of being part of something larger, of flow that I get when I’m connecting with people and information that I just started to realize I get now when I’m online as well as when I’m interacting with people in real life. Social software is, as many have said “software that gets you laid” — or, put more broadly “making it easy for people to do other things that make them happy: meeting, communicating, and hooking up.” In the same way I noticed when I started communicating more with friends who had email than those who didn’t, I now notice that I’m making more last-minute plans based on blogs and IM and chance meetings with plugged-in people who say “Yes let’s hang out” than the “Well I’ll see if I’m free next Thursday, let me call you back” crowd. I’m not saying this is admirable, I’m just observing that this is true.

This has to do with libraries for a few disparate reasons

  1. if the Pew Digital Divisions Report is to be believed, having broadband access is now a stronger predictor of online behavior than level of experience. Meaning, loosely translated, that people who have faster network connections do more online than people who have more (but slower) experience online. Libraries provide that access, librarians (can, could) provide guidance and know-how for those people who are diving into fast network all at once.
  2. When I was at the library yesterday, a librarian I’d met briefly while giving a talk months before invited me to his house for dinner, on the spot. I hung around after work, got a backroom tour of SFPL, went over to his house, met some nice people, ate some great food. Without network, befriending friends-of-friends and some degree of trust of strangers, I would have missed out on a great time. It’s not quite “getting laid” sure, but I’m 37 and fairly settled down. Think of what 20 year olds can do with this kind of power.
  3. On the way in to San Francisco, from the airport, I told the cab driver that I taught email to older people. He said he was having trouble with his email and I suggested going to the free classes that SFPL gives. He didn’t know they had them and said he’d stop in, that sounded like a great idea to him. Before I got out of the cab, he gave me his band’s MySpace URL.
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