NELA talk: Web 2.0, Library 2.0, Librarian 2.0

I gave a talk today at the New England Library Association Conference. Web 2.0, Library 2.0, Librarian 2.0 [subtitle: wait…. what? who?] that I think went well. Unlike previous talks, this one doesn’t have as much in the way of secret background notes (when you click the “printable” link you’ll get the slides version of my talk that usually has more talking points and notes to myself in them) but I did make a set of handouts. I think people like handouts. I think I’ll try to make more of them. Thanks to everyone who came and was such a friendly and cheery audience.

the customer is always … what?

Benjamin over at InfoBreaker has a good point. As we try to open our communities and have patrons “join the conversation” and bemore interactive with users, how do we learn to set new boundaries? He outlines a case of a patron not wanting to make a phone call to renew books when she was on vacation, thinking that should be something the library could do themselves, knowing she was on vacation. I think about other examples that have been getting a hearing lately.

If the library was totally democratic, would users still fine themselves? Implement noise policies? Shirt/shoes dress codes? We know they would be unlikely to, as a group, create their own ILS or their own classification system (no, folksonomy is not a classification system, yes it is very useful on its own). So my question is and has been, what is the role for the librarian, the supposed “information expert” in our 2.0 vision of ourselves? We facilitate access to information surely. However, there are many people, librarians and patrons, deeply in love with the idea of library as place. Then there are our board members and taxpayers who also like the idea of “money as thing,” that is the money that funds the library, pays the salary, keeps the lights on and leaves the pockets of taxpayers who are convinced that libraries are a Good Thing. Once your library is 100% in Second Life and not a side project of librarians who work in brick and mortar library buildings, who pays for their health care?

I know that in my job at MetaFilter, the money that pays me comes directly from user signups and advertising that others see on the site. Since we’re not claiming to be a public-sphere institution, I don’t have a problem with ads helping pay the bills of keeping the site running. I’m fairly secure in the site owner’s scruples, as well as my own. However once the library has ads for Amazon in its catalog, or preferences iPods as MP3 players over other available products, or stops buying VHS tapes in favor of DVDs, we’ve made a consumer choice, and we’ve made it for the public. I always get a little fidgety when people talk about brand consciousness and “markets” when they’re talking about the library, but I also realize that’s really the way the world of information is going. That’s getting a little off the topic of whether or not a patron on vacation should be able to have the library just say “oh you’re on vacation, we’ll just auto-renew your books until you come back.” but it is along the same spectrum.

How much do we bend to meet our users? How much do we expect them to bend to meet us?

ALA, at large, not at large

I found out via a roundabout way that my bid to be the Vermont Library Association’s chapter councilor wasn’t successful. This is good news and bad news. The woman they elected was probably more qualified than me, and will probably not dislike her time on Council as much as I have historically. I am not sure if she will advocate as strongly for web site improvements and increased technological access to ALA generally, but I’m sure there are things she is planning on promoting. I would have liked to have been a Councilor representing a specific group and not just the “at large” world but I’m young and there is still time.

For me, this means that ALA in New Orleans is the last meeting I will go to as a Councilor, for a while, if not forever. This means I can, if I want, cancel my membership to ALA. It means I can plan a Fourth of July party without being on my way back from a conference. It means that I don’t have to travel out of state twice a year in addition to all the other travelling I do. It means I probably won’t try to explain some of ALA’s decisions that I find inexplicable. It means I’ll get more involved with my local chapter — the irony being that if I had been at VLA’s annnual meeting, I might have had more of a shot at getting elected, but I was in Ohio at the Small Libraries Conference talking about the digital divide, and the libraries I worked with back home.

I’ve been following some of the ALA L2 kerfuffle which I was more interested in as a friend of Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine than as an ALA member. As a Councilor, I didn’t hear word one about this endeavor. As a member, I’m not surprised that ALA chose to hire a consultant group that talked a better game than they delivered, though for them the price was right. All I know is that if your consultant starts making blog posts like this one complaining about being complained about, and not getting paid enough, it’s going to be a hard tailspin to pull out of. I wish everyone the best possible luck making the best of things.