Why Go Slow?

Thanks to folks like Jessamyn, the Slow Library idea belonging to Mark Leggott has had some buzz as of late. So has this blog. I had the highest traffic I ever had by far Yesterday. Not that I’m in this for the web traffic, but when noticed, I take notice.

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?

My answer to these questions is “by intention” no, but “by the nature of librarians” yes.   If I hear someone is doing something that I feel libraries should be doing just by course of fair, then, yes, I do feel pressured to keep up.   It’s human nature to set your own value up to a referent.   And I think most librarians want to excel in the same ways that Hennepin or Ann Arbor do.   That’s natural pressure.   And because of this natural pressure, I have seen many applications of the blog put to poor use simply because “that’s what people are doing these days.”  I’ve even seen RSS being applied to historical events archives — a totally wrong way to approach RSS, in my view.

That said, the “Slow Library Movement”[SLM] (all of two, so far, with some skeptical here and there) came from someone who I know understands and appreciates Web/Library 2.0 quite well.    So, while SLM speaks to the “2.0”s there must be something else that makes this appealing to me, otherwise, I’d just reject it in favor of L2.   It must speak to local problems that I, as a professional librarian, think needs addressing.   I sat down and thought about these problems today, and I have 3 important ones.   Here they are:

  • Information is becoming like fast food.

As the slow food responded to the fast food habit, I think slow library responds to the “fast information” habit.   There’s something about Web 2.0 that makes me think about Seneca’s 2nd letter to Lucilius where he argues that it is better to read one book many times than it is to read a little bit of a wide range of books.

Whether you believe this or not, there are some realities in my Web 2.0 world that have me concerned.   I have a gazillion bookmarks sliding from Firefox to Delicious and a social bookmarking network that far exceeds my capacity to read the pages.   Already
I used to really enjoy understanding how a piece of writing was put together.   Now I care less.  I just get the post, skim some paragraphs for interest and then move on.  I’m not 100 pages through a book when I  feel like I need to blog it [resisted mostly so far].   Why can’t I just sit down and read for reading’s sake?

This all just reminds me of that flavorless hamburger I stuffed into my face from a drive-thru as I was trekking from floor hockey to home.   Slow food thinks people should try for flavor more often.   Slow Library may respond to providing a little “information flavor” from time to time as well.   In practical terms, we can think of effective evalutation, checking sources, and enjoying a book enough to choose to read it more than once.   I don’t mean this as an anti-2.0 thing, but as a way of adapting to a 2.0 world, which is inevitability in my view.

  • Web 2.0 is not as ubiquitous as I usually imagine it.

The world I see in front of me, and the people I know face-to-face do not talk about Web 2.0 in any way.   They may own an ipod, but they really see it as a step up on the walkman.    Even the so-called millennials I know don’t fret about Web 2.0.   They just live their lives using the things they think make their lives easier.   And those priorities will change as age [and spouses and children] catches up to them.   People are using MyYahoo and Personalized Google pages without thinking about RSS (which, in the end, is just a way of organizing XML tags to make for easy syndication).

This is not to say Web 2.0 is not important to these people.    They *are* using Web 2.0, whether they know it or not.   They just don’t really care much about how the technology gives them what they want.   Meanwhile I hear that blogging is plateauing.  This makes perfect sense to me:  alot of people I know understand what a blog is — they just don’t care to have one.  If this is the case, then “bloggy” services (however defined) may simply be a way to target bloggers (however defined).   This is not a bad thing, just not part of an ubiquitous library strategy.
Then there is the profit motive implicit in some Web 2.0 services.   For instance, I am hearing criticism about the way reporters discussing Second Life count its millions of users.   Hype is hype and life is life.   Although the former is intriguing I like the latter in the long run.  The SLM may sidestep some of the hype if only by neglecting the 2.0 moniker.  Better yet, SLM doesn’t call for ubiquity, but local-formed strategies.

  • Organizations (and Libraries Especially) are Paying the Price for Not Having an In-Depth understanding of Technology

That the OPAC Sucks is a mantra in most library circles is one of the most shameful things I can imagine.   Having sold our souls to vendors to provide a core service that is broken in very very bad ways is something that keeps me up at night.   It’s pretty simple.   People should be able to type in something in the library website search and get access to the information they want, whereever it’s at — Google Style.   That someone would have to login to a “catalogue” and a “website” and a series of databases separately is just foolishness.   And even more foolish is that librarians are at odds to fix this sort of problem.  I don’t blame the vendors.   It is us librarians who did not get the skills we needed to solve this problem years ago.

But there’s more:   there are alot of expensive solutions that have a [usually free] open source response.    In some cases, the open source response is far, far superior.   In others, you are better off staying away.   Small businesses can benefit from people who know the answers to some of these questions.   So can not-for-profits.   So can your average individual.  A Slow Library would be looking this way to bring needed information to the people who need it.   Web/L2.0 don’t seem to have an eye to the open source community in the same way that Mark seems to be talking about.
There are so many other things I could add to this puzzle.   There are definite connects between L2 and SLM, with a few appendeds to SLM and a name that is not so connected to the tech industry.   But, if this discussion bring people into the world of effective and tech-friendly library service who otherwise would not have been, then I think it is worth it.