Towards Open Libraries

Keynote presentation for the Colorado Association of Libraries Conference
Jessamyn West - 08nov08

Abstract & Files

Are you ready to be the library the future needs? How do we get from here to there? What does it mean to be an information provider in a time of information overload? Hear the thoughts of Jessamyn West, a community technology librarian and one of the first librarian bloggers on the net.

Slides in PDF format (12 MB)
Slides in Keynote (Mac) format (12 MB)

Approximate Notes

Towards Open Libraries

Libraries are for the public, mostly, but they are not run by the public, directly.

Oh sure the public hassles us about paying our salaries and they sure do donate enough books and computers to fill our basements and attics until the end of time.

At the end of the day, however, someone has the keys and some people get paid and it's pretty tough not to see those people as IN CHARGE which means it's pretty hard not to see what's inside the library as THEIRS which is just another way of saying NOT YOURS [well not you all, but you get the idea...]. This gets worse with technology.

We've always known how to network, we're doing it right now. [sort of]

But the effects of network, The Network, The Internetwork, when you can do it online, all the time and not just at conferences, bi-yearly, is starting to change things rapidly. [link: lolbrarians]

Information goes more places, more quickly, than ever before. Want to be my friend on facebook? Fine, I’ve got room for a few more [aside: haters, just because I’m nice enough to let anyone be my friend]

And it's not just the random hive-mind effects you hear about where everyone takes their pants off on the subway at the same time, it's people you know, in places you've heard of. [link: Library Society of the World]

So now you're getting news headlines fast, and not just from the big media companies (plug for AdBlock Firefox plugin). You're seeing news, hearing news, creating news, defining news. You can interact with your information in ways you couldn't just five or ten years before, you can apply feedback directly to the system [images: EFF Bloggers rights, Coverpop, We The Media].

You can interact with your information in ways you couldn't just five or ten years before, you can apply feedback directly to the system. Cass Sunstein wrote about this in 1999 called the phenomenon the Daily Me.

Why am I talking about the news? Well we just had an election, for one. Second my belief is that libraries really do exist and are critical because of that whole democracy thing, if you listened to people talk leading up to the election, you know there’s bad information out there and getting people better information is important.

Didn't like a newspaper article in 1999? Write a letter to the editor, or maybe an email. Good luck with that. Don't like a newspaper article in 2008? Comment directly on the blog, write a post for your own blog, heck Googlebomb them....

The buzzy way to explain this is "the Read/Write web" and it's a fundamental part of this whole 2.0 thing we talk about. I don’t care for the 2.0 moniker but it’s a useful way of grouping a lot of current web technologies so people know what you’re talking about.

Web 2.0 was a marketing term designed by techies to sell a conference.

Library 2.0 was a term designed by librarians to try to explain who using technology in libraries can solve problems, create opportunities, create economies of scale and maybe teach everyone a few good jokes. So what do you do? What does it mean?

A cheap parlor trick. I can read your mind. What you want out of new technology is to save time, save money, not go crazy at work and also to help people. Am I close? How do you get there from here?

That's it.

So, yay, we're all connected all the time, to everything, hurray! This fixes everything, right? [discussion of Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody, video]

Well... while information swarms all around us, we still have patrons who read the newspaper once a day and want it to be in the library for them. We still serve people who check their email a few times a week, if they even HAVE email.

We still use software that isn't gracious about emailing even if our patrons DID have email.

And I have a cell phone that only works when I'm on the road. There just aren't any towers where I live. Verizon -- our big telco -- responded to the requests for more infrastructure by selling ALL THEIR LINES in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to a small telco that just sent me my first bill this month. I wish them luck. [discussion of Rural Electrification Program]

So, we're dealing with some hurdles.

First, we need to connect people. In places like mine where libraries are THE wired place in town, libraries are leading rather than following in technological innovation. People get email accounts so they can get email from the library, the library doesn't start emailing in response to patron demand. I'm totally fine with saying "oh hey you can go your whole life without learning to use a computer if you want" except [katrina, irs examples]

Next, we need to find ways to make what we know into what they know. [iceberg metaphor] This can be making ourselves and our activities more transparent -- how do we ILL, how do we order books, what DO our library workers do when they're not at the ref/circ desk, how can patrons help? -- as well as helping our patrons go beyond us, beyond our walls, beyond our network, beyond our expertise.

And to do that, we must be prepared to go outside....

and play, explore dangerous ideas, create new things (VOKAL and Green Mountain Library Consortium) and share (Open Library). We INVENTED sharing, AMIRITE? OCLCs new policies, for example, are looking anti-sharing. What’s really open... Facebook? WebJunction?

And so in the same way that the little dead girl in the book The Lovely Bones endures and remains substantive in heaven while she's in the hearts and minds of her people on earth, libraries have to be looking for new ways to be saying "remember me."