Hi. I’ve been scarce lately. Not that you need to know this thanks to the wonders of RSS, but I’ve felt scarce lately and that’s important as well. I spent this past week starting my Digital Pictures class, teaching two people to use computers for the first time, checking in on the Internet/wireless install at two of my tiny libraries, staffing my drop-in time and driving back and forth to Massachusetts to assist family members with a bunch of medical upsets, most of which have mostly passed. I generally don’t update here when life trumps blogging, but it’s worth a reminder that jessamyn.com sometimes reveals what this site doesn’t dwell on, for the curious.
I have a lot of travel coming up. I’ll be speaking at NELA here in Vermont and an ACRL event in Oregon. Next month takes me to Michigan, Wisconsin and Hawaii. It’s an odd combination of talks, Digital Divide issues on the one hand and Hot New Technologies on the other hand. I feel like that mayor in A Nightmare Before Christmas, with the two faces that oppose each other.
As the days get shorter I’ve also been in strategy mode. I like my job, the things I do in my life and I’m thrilled every time I get an IM or an email from someone saying “Hey I tried one of those things you talked about in your presentation and it really worked well!” I’ve been spending some time thinking about scalability and the problem of the technologically left-behind. We like technological solutions to problems because they often scale. If you can make software that solves a problem, you can replicate it and that problem solving spreads. IF, and this is a big if, if you have people that have a computer and can use software. Writing books to inform and educate adults who can read scales. Teaching adults to read doesn’t. Adults who don’t read have a variety of reasons why this is the case and often carry a lot of baggage about not being able to read.
Adults who can’t use computers are in the same boat. Many of these people come to libraries. One of the students I was working with this week had tried to go to the library, my old library. He had needed to fill out a job application for Home Depot and had very little computer experience. The library had 30 minute time computer slots (when I was there I recall it was 45, but in any case it wasn’t enough). There was a way for him to save his work on the website, but neither he nor the librarians he worked with could show him how to do this. He waited, and found me and my drop-in time a few weeks later. I worry sometimes that if we’re providing computers and internet access to people and then make them really only useful to people who already know how to use them, we’re reinforcing a bad bad trend.
As John Blyberg discussed in his Going to the Boneyard post about library detractors and our own abilities as marketers, lobbyists and activists, if people are saying we’re not serving them, that we’re irrelevant, maybe we’re not doing what we do correctly? I think there’s a difference between the “there’s something in my library to offend everyone, even me” sentiment and the article that John and many others are responding to claiming that libraries are obsolete but it’s not a huge difference. As a profession, we have a hard time standing up for ourselves, and a hard time defining our new directions. This makes us susceptible to attack. The nobility and rationality of our arguments isn’t always going to see us through. We need to be proactive and firm about our messages: DOPA is bad legislation, MySpace isn’t a threat, libraries are good places for kids and teens, reading bad words won’t make you a bad person. We need to develop solutions that scale.
The localness of libraries is their charm but also has the potential to be their undoing. I took a friend for a drive returning library books yesterday (five libraries!) and the difference between the little library in the poorer town and the little library in the bigger town was striking to her, whereas I’m more used to it. We’ve seen legislators and the Department of Education step in and deal with some of this inequality when it happens to schools, whats our large scale solution when we see this sort of thing happening to libraries?