library 2.0: How do you share?

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.

subversive gardening, or why wikis?

A metaphor for wiki understanding: the community garden. If you’vbe got a little time to do some reading today, I’d dive into Luke’s article about Ranganathan, gardening and Wikipedia.

…there is no monolithic point of view, there is no monopoly on truth. From a critical perspective, if the object lesson centers around a Wikipedia article as the participants negotiate and carefully choose language to approximate NPOV (the Wikipedian “neutral point of view”), it’s going to be a pretty effective lesson, which will teach above all that no source — not even Wikipedia — should be taken on its own in constructing meaning. If, on the other hand, the questioning student is handed a Britannica article — equally anonymous but somehow anointed with some magical pixie-dust librarians call “authority” but fail to satisfactorily explain to anyone outside the profession — the lesson will fail (again, from a critical pedagogical perspective, at least).

delightful wikipedia timewaster/tool

Steven points me to the live recent changes feed for Wikipedia. This is sort of a neat way to look at how dynamic the project it [good news and bad news to librarians, I know] but also to get a ton of examples, an overview if you will, of what a good update looks like, or what all these updates are doing. You see logged in users, annotated changes, links to more information, and nonsense pages deleted so fast it can make your head spin. Fascinating.

wikipedia for librarians

Jenny had a frustrating time recently trying to figure out why edits she made to the “anyone can edit it!” Wikipedia were speedily deleted. Since I had been around the Wikipedia block a bit, I understood both sides to the problem: community sites don’t behave like vendor/reference sites, and Wikipedia doesn’t have the most robust feedback loops for explaining their processes. If anyone has been following this specific issue [which was resolved later] or this issue generally, you might be interested in a Wikipedia Project which includes, Introduction to Wikipedia Culture for Librarians. It’s still very much in process, but note the focus on inclusivity and appeal over brute “this is how it is” FAQs.

Main point: we can’t expect anyone to be impressed by an approach that boils down to “stand back, I’m a librarian, I’m trained to handle this”. Our success will depend on our power to persuade, to come up with better ideas and to defend them.

[thanks sammy]

also, wikipedia talk

Also, I did not make it to Jimmy Wales’ talk on Tuesday. I was having a nice evening with my sister and I just don’t see her often enough as it is. Jessica did an IRC transcript of the talk so I can at least get the gist of what was said. The last line of the transcript is “the price of admission to the talk is to edit” so I’m already paid up.

hi – 22apr

Hi and happy Earth Day. I’ll be heading down to Boston to speak at Simmons this Monday evening and then I think I’ll extend my stay to see Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikepedia, speak at Harvard Tuesday evening. I’ve been delving more and more into the Wikipedia world lately, lending a hand updating some of the Vermont town pages and uploading some public domain images to illustrate some of those pages.

The debate we’ve seen happening over the authority, or lack thereof, of collaborative information systems such as Wikipedia is just scratching the surface of the debates we’ll be seeing in the years to come. Librarians ignore Wikipedia, and by extension the new face of information, at their peril. Keep in mind I’m not saying that we all have to run to the Internet to answer our questions, just that if we fail to see the impact these systems are having, and the openness and transparency they bring with them, then we fail to learn something crucial about the downsides to the inflexible authority of print. Downsides that people have been living with and taking as a given all these years, and now may no longer have to.