Things Noticed: The “Slow Library” Movement

The Dalhousie SIM Alumni Association’s Outstanding Alumni (pdf file sorry) Award Winner for 2006 is Mark Leggott. As the winner, Mark spoke to alumni and students last night on a topic of his choosing. His topic was something he called “The Slow Library Movement.

As far as I can tell, the Slow Library Movement is a movement by Mark to give a more meaningful voice to Web/Library 2.0. The solutions are the same, but the message is more focussed, less panicked and in my view, more compelling than the views I’ve heard in the Web 2.0 field.

I have written more than once on the difficulty in translating the opportunities created by Web 2.0 to the rubber-hits-the-road applications of community development. People who have tried the Web 2.0 technologies understand that Web 2.0 is about [seemingly endless] possibilities for a more connected future. Essentially, you can take almost any human need and there is a possible Web 2.0 application to help resolve it, if only people would just try it.

Ironically, while Web 2.0 means increased accessibility, in some ways the movement is also quite insular and imperialistic. Web 2.0 is a technology-based analogy, relevant more to the software development community than it is to your average Joe off the street. Some advocates also speak as if the deal is “use Web 2.0 or perish.”

My response to the Web 2.0 trend has been to use the Web 2.0 tag to attract interest, offer hands-on tools of so called “Web 2.0 applications” and then get my audiences to tell me what *they* think Web 2.0 is. This has been successful because once people try something like Google documents, they usually see how it can be applied to their everyday situation and begin to understand some of the possibilities that it affords.

The other side of the Web 2.0 coin is that I sometimes end up being the victim of my success. “Great! I like RSS, and blogs and wikis — can you set one up for my team with these specifications, provide training and make sure it doesn’t blow up or divulge our at work information to the public?” If only one person said this, this would be fine. But when every manager of every department of every community partner knows that you can provide a Web 2.0 solution for them, that’s where things get hard. Web 2.0 is cool. Managing and determining the priority areas for technology is harder.

Well, here comes Mark with the “Slow Library Movement” and I’m inspired. If I have him right (and I am sure Mark sees this movement as a conversation more than a manifesto), Mark is saying “ubiquity is not an end in and of itself.” Here are some “Let’s” thoughts that may or may not apply to the Slow Library Movement”:

  • Let’s focus on realistic, local solutions and build community first.
  • Let’s forget about Web 2.0 for a second, understand our customers needs and then apply or give access to resources that help them satisfy those needs.
  • Let’s play.
  • Let’s shun pressure to “keep up” with Ann Arbor (sorry John Blyberg), Hennepin County (sorry Glenn Peterson via Tame the Web) and etc. and apply our own strengths to come up with our own creative ideas.
  • Let’s focus on what we can do right now to make the community a better place.
  • Let’s notice the beauty of things right before our eyes, and let supporting that be our Return on Investment.

I think there are lots of “Let’s” that can come out of the Slow Library Movement. I look forward to seeing/hearing more as this develops.

I also look forward to seeing how the Open Space/World Cafe/Appreciative Inquiry community folks could exploit the “Slow Library Movement” to their advantage (and “exploiting libraries” is precisely what communities should try to do).

Good one Mark! You’ve got me convinced!

8 thoughts on “Things Noticed: The “Slow Library” Movement

  1. Interesting – thanks for the pointer, Ryan. Disclaimer: the following comment is based on your post, as I haven’t had time to listen to the podcast yet, so hopefully I won’t be back to retract it all. :-p

    I guess I’m reading the wrong stuff, because I don’t see Library 2.0 writing that is panicked. I see enthusiastic advocates, and I see folks pointing out that there are users with changing expectations and we [libraries] finally have some free tools we can use to try to meet some of those expectations, but a lot of what I’m reading these days points to specific examples/models/ideas, which is a pretty focused way to discuss the topic. (Wow, that was a long sentence – sentence 2.0.)

    Based on your bullet points, this just seems like another name for “Library 2.0,” which is fine, but I’d be hard pressed to find a thoughtful post or article about L2 (as opposed to the extreme or knee-jerk reactions) that doesn’t include most or all of the tenets listed. In fact, one and three aren’t even restatements, and I’d argue that two is a restatement if you take out the first eight words.

    Also, I personally don’t believe that showing Ann Arbor’s or Hennepin County’s fine work scolds libraries to “keep up.” Does showing Hennepin’s former cataloging work to update LCSH make other libraries feel like they need to keep up? Does highlighting Seattle Public Library’s building make everyone else feel like they have to keep up?

    Well, yeah, a little I guess. But who realistically thinks all libraries can (or should) keep up with large, urban systems? In fact, in my presentations, I show AADL’s website and then show a similar blog by the director at a small public library that only gets a post a month at best (but still has a couple of user comments), noting that blogging has practical benefits for any size library.

    “Ironically, while Web 2.0 means increased accessibility, in some ways the movement is also quite insular and imperialistic. Web 2.0 is a technology-based analogy, relevant more to the software development community than it is to your average Joe off the street. Some advocates also speak as if the deal is ‘use Web 2.0 or perish.’ ”

    Agreed that it can be quite insular and imperialistic, but name me a topic in librarianship that isn’t. Cataloging, reference, administration, take your pick. And what about libraries in general is not more relevant to us than it is to your average Joe? It’s an insular discussion because we’re discussing it within the profession. I’m interested to read about church 2.0, even though their discussions are insular and most of isn’t necessarily relevant to me. (I have no way of evaluating if they are imperialistic.)

    As for “2.0 it or perish,” I liken that to the tech bubble, both the big bust of the early 21st century and the one that will soon hit if it hasn’t already started. I am proud that there doesn’t seem to be a library equivalent, at least not yet. I don’t think we’ll look back and say libraries shouldn’t have wasted time trying and evaluating blogging, RSS, wikis, instant messaging, social networking, etc.

    Like you, I find “web 2.0” and “library 2.0” to be convenient starting points for discussions that naturally must be narrowed to the local situation. Although there are days I feel very overwhelmed at work, I still choose the enthusiasm of experimentation and adoption over the apathy of inertia and fear of failure.

    More power to Mark (and you) if he can continue to spread that enthusiasm under whatever name.

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  2. Jenny:

    Thanks for the response. I think the “panicked” is not coming from the advocates, but from those who feel that they should be doing Web 2.0 things but they don’t fully grasp what the message is.

    As you say “the slow library” movement is basically Library 2.0 with a different name. The difference is language. But we shouldn’t underestimate the power of language in the change process.

    One of the problems with “Library 2.0” is that it is a response to another meme in the technology field (Web 2.0). Even though many have argued that Library 2.0 is more than technology, there’s still that *.0 metaphor there implying that the heart is technology.

    “Slow Library” is another translation of library 2.0, but the heart is health, sustainability and empowerment. From that start we aren’t evaluating, trying or adopting Web technologies, but transforming Web technologies into effective and sustainable information services for the people who need them.

    “Ought a librarian by definition be an early adopter of information technology” may be the biggest question for Information Management in the next decade. I say “no” to this statement.

    “Ought libraries hire a larger percentage of early adopters than the average organization?” I say “yes” to this — that librarians should probably consist of somewhere between 15-20% of early adopters. And the main characteristic of early adoption, to me, is leadership, interpersonal, and risk taking. I don’t care much about tech knowledge.

    “Ought library schools and professional associations attempt to instill the values of early adoption?” I say “yes” to this as well.

    Back to language though. Library 2.0 implies a push toward the new. “You are 1.0 and the rest of the world is 2.0. You are behind. Left in the dust. Google-fodder.” Slow library says “you are the beginning of better access to technology.” Or better “your customer is the beginning of better access to technology.”

    All we need to do is recognize what’s in front of us, understand what is truly beautiful and use that inspiration to innovate — technology or otherwise.

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  3. […] In the earlier post, Jenny Levine made some very good comments. If I can summarize, I think she was defending the enthusiasm for Web 2.0 by the biblioblogosphere. For instance, she says: Also, I personally don’t believe that showing Ann Arbor’s or Hennepin County’s fine work scolds libraries to “keep up.” Does showing Hennepin’s former cataloging work to update LCSH make other libraries feel like they need to keep up? Does highlighting Seattle Public Library’s building make everyone else feel like they have to keep up? […]

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  4. […] Ryan Deschamps’ comment about a change in language makes sense. “Library 2.0 implies a push toward the new. ‘You are 1.0 and the rest of the world is 2.0. You are behind. Left in the dust. Google-fodder.’ Slow library says ‘you are the beginning of better access to technology.’” […]

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