Towards Open Libraries

Endnote presentation for the Saskatchewan Manitoba Library Conference
Jessamyn West, 03may08

Libraries are open to the public, but what does open access to information really mean in a library setting? Jessamyn West a librarian in rural Vermont and editor of the weblog will discuss what's working and not working in our networked libraries of today. Touching on topics ranging from social software to open source software to the digital divide, West will reflect on the last few years of the Library 2.0 environment and what we've learned from it.

Slides in PDF format (11 MB)

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 [aside: firestarters]

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...].

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 rapdily.

Information goes more places, more quickly, than ever before. And it's not just the random hive-mind effects you hear about where everyone takes their pants off on the subway, it's people you know, in places you've heard of.

So now you're getting news headlines fast, and not just from the big media companies. 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. 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.

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? That's it.

So, yay, we're all connected all the time, to everything, hurray! This fixes everything, right?

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.

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]

Next, we need to find ways to make what we know into what they know. [iceberg] 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....