+ Flickr = Cool Postcards

Perhaps this is another reason to install the extension on your public PCs?

Ed Vielmetti has a sneaky little way to send private postcards to people in your network. It goes like this:

  1. Tag a Flickr photo.
  2. Give it some tags.
  3. Include a For:[someone] tag.
  4. Write some neat descriptions.
  5. Click “do not share” on the top right hand corner of the tag form.

ta dah! Your flickr picture with a nice little description will appear in the person’s “links for you” section.

There’s a screen shot of the procedure in action at Ed Vielmetti’s Flickr Page. Jessamyn has already blogged about this as well.

Ok. So maybe Ed’s idea is a bit marginal. But here’s the kicker — at first it was just a little neato thing. Email by Then you add Flickr and you have postcards — now you are cooking with gas!

What’s next? How about home delivery of documents using scanned docs? Highlighted. With notes. And stored in your with a comment. And a citation. For a collaborative research paper. There are possibilities here, and barriers (ie. copyright stuff) too. But the cool thing is that users are making services better.

Lots of fun to be had and lots of innovation at the same time. Yum!

Managing the Extension Problem

Since I went out on a limb by adding the “ extension” to my “10 library 2.0 no-brainers” post, I thought I should at least explain a way you can remove the problem with people accessing other people’s bookmarks.

See, with, you always have the option to “not share” your bookmarks. If you selected some “not shared” bookmarks and do not either 1) logout or 2) erase cookies after shutting down Firefox, then the next person who uses the computer will have access to your “not shared” bookmarks. Or worse, they could sabotage the account.

So, adding Delicious might mean you should also have Firefox remove all cookies when the system closes. For FF 2.0 you do this thusly:

  1. Tool > options
  2. On the top bar, click “Privacy”
  3. Check “Always clear my private data when I close Firefox” under “Private Data.”
  4. No, you are not finished yet!
  5. Click “Settings”next to the check box you clicked in #3.
  6. Make sure “cookies” “saved passwords” and “authenticated sessions” are checked in the box (actually, it’s probably not that bad an idea to have all of these checked. This _is_ a public computer we are talking about.
  7. You can check the “Ask me before clearing private data” thing if you want. The cookies will not be a toggled option anyway.
  8. Do a tester. Login to your account with the extension, and then see if you have to login after you restart Firefox. If you do, then it worked!
  9. If you are smart and have your system deep-freezed, you should not have to worry too much about people changing the settings.

Another option is to add “” to the cookie exceptions list (the “exceptions” button is also in the “privacy” tab).

This, of course, is not fool-proof. But it should suffice to keep unwanted sharing of bookmarks from happening to your average user. Then again, I offer no guarantees here! Take my advice as is, please and see if it works for your particular configuration of computer!

Preparing Ourselves for an Open Source World

I have a lot of things in my mind that relate to the “Slow Library” movement these days.

With the release of the HUGE report on the Economic Impact of FLOSS on innovation and competitiveness of the EU ICT sector, I think Open Source is about to come out of the margins and into the mainstream.

Why? Well, largely because those who are aware of and have the capacity and knowledge to use & support open source software have large competitive advantages over those who use proprietary software.

But one thing that hit home for me, Mr. “Slow Library” advocate, was this recommendation (from the executive summary):

Avoid life-long vendor lock-in in educational systems by teaching students skills, not specific applications; encourage participation in FLOSS-like communities.

One way to apply this concept in the library school world is to teach databases and use different applications (Access, XML/XML-schema & MySQL for instance)  to demonstrate the same concepts.   In the open source world, to teach this way is no longer so cost-prohibitive.

In the Library 2.0 world, it may also mean saying “use Flickr” less and “Develop Online Networking Skills” more.   But how do you explain a skill and isn’t “use Flickr” a means to developing Online Networking Skills?  Learning to balance between applications to acquire knowledge and the necessary skills to store and retrieve knowledge has always been and will continue to be a skill for librarians of all sorts.   Knowledge Management ho!

This also reminds me of an article by Kathy Sierra about Users in “P” Mode.   Using the example of a camera always being in “P” mode, Kathy argues that some technological features are not used by users, not because the users don’t know how to change a mode technically, but because they do not understand why they would want to do it in the first place.

Another good example is anti-lock brakes in a car.   Everyone who can drive a car can use anti-lock brakes (uh — push the brake with your foot).   Not everyone understands what benefits anti-lock holds and in what circumstances someone may choose not to use them.

So, I recommended adding a add-in to Firefox on public computers.   A neat feature that’s L2 enough, but what can I do to encourage the public to use it?   Sure the public knows how to click a button on a browser.   Most of the even technophobiest public understands how to “tag” — write a word in a text box.   Big deal.   What many customers or patrons may not know is what “tagging” does to improve their information experience.

So, while writing a list of “top 10 no-brainers” all of the sudden [ssp warning] turned this blog into the fastest growing blog on WordPress for January 25 (and the 66th most popular blog for that day)[/ssp], there is a non-tech side to all those applications that is necessary for implementing them effectively.

CMS Playdom — an Offering to Students and “non-John Blyberg” Librarians

Ok. So maybe you read Karen Coombs’s essay on “Building a Library Web Site on the Pillars of Web 2.0” or heard about the amazing things John Blyberg has done in turning your average library website into a fully-functional Web 2.0 integrated blazing super-powered mystify both users and librarians online cool device and you realize somewhere, like a certain goblin named Joshua has wondered that more librarians have to be thinking and understanding more about how a content management system works.

Well, here’s what I’m proposing. I am willing to let some people see what the back-end of Joomla looks like. I know, I know — John uses Drupal, which is also amazing, but Joomla is easier to install for now. I may get into Drupal later, anyway. And besides, Joomla narrowly beat out Drupal for the Open Source CMS Award. In my view, Joomla is better in one way [easier back-end interface] and Drupal is better in another [easier for coders to customize] — but that’s another whole blog post.

Here is my commitment. I am willing to let a maximum of 20 people see and ‘play’ with the backend of a Joomla-powered website on a test-server. You will get:

1. An “administrator” (not super-administrator) account.

2. Some limited willingness on my part to share some tips on how it works (via IM or otherwise).

3. Some willingness on my part to re-install the system if you manage to blow it up.

4. General forgiveness for #3 so long as you aren’t a hacker doing it on purpose.

5. Perhaps a look at some other CMSs like MediaWiki, e-Collab and zencart [and maybe Drupal].

What do I need from you? Just the following:

Send a name, institution name, desired username and some way for me to confirm that you are a librarian or library student at the institution you mention to ryan [underscore] deschamps123 [at] yahoo [dot] com.

That’s it. That’s my contribution to the library world. If I get lots of replies, my priorities will go this way:

1. Local first, then global. (Slow library movement stuff, ya know?)

2. Small libraries, then medium, then large.

3. Students first, then new librarians, then curious seasoned librarians.

That’s it! Just let me know.

My Top-ten Library 2.0 “No-brainers” for Public Libraries

toptenlow.jpg This is fairly straight-forward post. I was thinking about Library/Web 2.0 applications, hearing about projects that seemed to some to be a bit dubious or misguided and occassionally finding people being a bit dismissive in general about Web/Library 2.0.

I have sympathy with some of the Web/Library 2.0 skepticism. Not everyone has the resources, inclination or knowledge-base to develop high-powered services on Second Life or to design library based mash-ups and the like.

So, I thought I’d distill library 2.0 into 10 projects that I say are pretty much “no-brainers.” These are 10 things that are:

  • Low risk
  • Low cost
  • Low effort
  • Sure to provide added benefit to a good number of users
  • pretty much just common sense service enhancements AND
  • not likely to ruffle [needlessly] many technophobe feathers

In my view, if you do these 10 things (or some reasonable facimile) you have satisficed the Library 2.0 moniker sufficiently to say you are “L2.” You can always do more to be more user-centric, but doing these is enough to say you are decent.

Here they are:

1. Include Mozilla Firefox on all Public Computers.

Why is it L2?

It is open source, and has a whole bunch of cool add-ins, many of which are social-software-ish.

Why would my users want it?

Some would want it because Internet Explorer is too wonky and proprietary. I don’t want to get into why, but just trust me on that one. The other big reason is that many of your users may desire ad blockers, javascript disablers, and things like StumbleUpon, and Yoono a cool tool for surfing the web. You may not know or care what these add-ins are, but some of your users do and they will like the fact that they can add them when they visit you.

2. Add the Extension to Firefox as part of your suite

Why is it L2?

Delicious is a social bookmarking site. Social Bookmarking = Web2 Social Bookmarking in a Library = L2.

Why would my Users Want It?

It’s pretty simple. With no delicious, users can only bookmark to your PC which will probably get wiped by DeepFreeze the next time your user arrives. With delicious, all bookmarks go to the user’s delicious account. That means he/she can add to and access his/her bookmarks from anywhere. Access to bookmarks = easy access to desired information.

3. RSS feeds for library news and programs (minimum)

Why is it L2?

Well, users don’t have to visit your site to see what you are offering. More control to your user = L2.

Why would my Users Want it?

Is it better to have to go to the store to get your paper or to have it delivered? RSS is like having library and program news “delivered.” You can get fancier than this, but these two things are pretty straight-forward.

4. Have straight-forward guidelines for blogging (including a statement that you encourage staff to blog)

Why is it L2?

By encouraging blogging, you are taking your staff and sending them forth as evangelists for the library cause. By providing guidelines, you will also give people more confidence to express their opinions without fear of trepidation. The guidelines should be fairly simple: 1) respect the privacy of yourself and others, 2) don’t divulge confidential information, 3) don’t plagiarize or do things that are otherwise illegal, 4) be reasonably respectful of others. That sort of thing.

Why would my users want it?

Blogging staff are technically aware and community-engaged staff. Online users will enjoy seeing that their local librarian is blogging. Off-line users will benefit from more technically capable staff.

5. Have some kind of content managey system for staff information sharing

Why is it L2?

Content management is a way to let larger amounts of people add content to a website (internal or external). A wiki is a good kind of content management system, but you could also try something along the lines of an internal blog or other information sharing system. In short, a content management system invites collaboration, that means it’s L2.

Why would my users want it?

Similiar to number 5, L2 products for staff means smarter and more knowledgable staff. Example: say you have a “readers services wiki.” Prior to the wiki, you have to rely on the knowledge of individuals — and usually the ones who are on staff. How many times have you said “oh, this is a fantasy question — how I wish so-and-so were here. . ..”? Well, with the wiki, so-and-so could leave a list of great fantasy books — perhaps with brief descriptions and read-alikes to go with it. That means you can go to the wiki to see what so-and-so recommends for fantasy readers. Even better, “whosawitz” may be another fantasy fan from another branch who can add to the list. Pow — your reader’s advisory power just jumped exponentially.

6. Have a public blog and allow comments

Why is it L2?

Because it invites participation, fair and simple.

Why would my users want it?

Lots of reasons, including but not limited to 1) wanting and input on their library 2) getting answer to questions 3) getting to read interesting comments and how they are responded to 4) feeling like your website is not an automaton but that there are actually people running the show and 5) engaging other library-people in a discussion about their favorite place.

Moderate it all you want, but we are at the age where you need a blog with commenting power.

7. Collaborate with Partners using Google docs or Zoho

Why is it L2?

Google docs is pretty much a wiki with a few added security controls.

Why would my users [actually community partners] want it?

With no fuss over document formats and versions, you will all literally be on the same page. The chat feature is a nice addition as well.

8. Keep a flickr page with some interesting pictures of library programs etc.

Why is it L2?

It’s Flickr and people can see all the wonderful things going on at the library.

Why would my users want it?

Well, they get to see pictures of the library in action and get an idea of what’s going on even if they can’t make it on a regular basis. Further, your library staff (who are now blogging) could reference these pictures in their blogs.

9. Make sure Instant Messaging, Gaming, YouTube or allowed on your PCs

Why is it L2?

Well, it’s not L2 actually, but it is a mandatory requirement of calling yourself L2.

Why would my users want it?

Remember Dirty Dancing and how misunderstanding all those uptight parents were with the rather level-headed and quite remarkable and creative dancing kids? Well, IM, Gaming, YouTube and etc. are doing more for those young brains than you think. The major issues with these tools (1. monopolization of resources and 2. innappropriate use) are not inherent to Web 2.0 services. Got a PUC-potato? Well, restrict their time limits, citing equity of access. Got a porn-watcher? Well, have your internet use policy ready (which I’ll bet a dime a dozen says something about appropriate use in a public space). Don’t blow a positive library experience for the majority because you have a few rule-breakers.

10. Engage teens with technology

Why is it L2?

Engaging teens with technology will almost inevitably lead to using one of the technologies mentioned in #9 in a program or service.

Why would my users want it?

Well, there’s the teen-users who will come to use the library as a place to hang out. Then there are the citizens who will be glad those teens have a place to hang out. And lastly, parents will be happy to see their teens doing something productive, learning new skills and meeting new friends. It’s pretty basic.

That’s that. Do these 10 fairly simple things and you can call yourself L2. It’s not all, but it is enough given limited resources, knowledge or organizational inclination.

Most of these things take few resources on the part of the library. Numbers 6, 9 & 10 probably would take up the most resources, but they are also fairly core services so I think the cost is worth it. Numbers 5 & 7 may even save you resources compared to what you are probably doing in their place. 6 & 9 are probably going to be the hardest to convince management staff who are risk-averse or technically unaware, but they are not huge calls in the grand scheme of things, and the case for support should not be horrendous.

All in all, there are a wide range of Web 2.0 applications that are not risky or costly to implement, and at the same time they are bound to be effective. Even a “costly” web 2 service such as creating a video blog is not that costly in the end (a few thousand for equipment & software and some time to edit the movies). The point here is that you do not have to blow people’s minds to be L2.

Although, of course, I always encourage the occassional attempt at mind-blowing with the right preparation and thought.

Creating The “Right” Network — Using Diversity to be “Slow”

I do not link to Kathy Sierra’s blog enough. She writes amazing and helpful advice about design, coding and well, just making your users happy.

But her recent post, “The Dumbness of Crowds” definitely has me thinking these days about gathering networks and growing yourself. In it, Sierra laments that people have mistranslated James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds (a book that my wife has promised me for, of all things, Valentine’s Day) and basically has taken the flavor out of individuals.

She then goes through a brilliant litany of differences between what she calls “Collective intelligence” and “The Dumbness of Crowds.” Here’s an example:

“Collective Intelligence” is about getting input and ideas from many different people and perspectives.

“Dumbness of Crowds” is blindly averaging the input of many different people, and expecting a breakthrough.
(It’s not always the averaging that’s the problem it’s the
blindly part)

Now I’ve written recently on “Me-too-ism” in the Web 2.0 world”, basically arguing that we want people who will be committed to a cause to the extent that they want to shut out dissenting voices. The important thing about that discussion is that you do not necessarily want them to succeed in shutting out those voices. In that article I made a solid claim for the philosopher — the person who will make solid calls on the group behavior and moderate the field.

In other places there have been challenges to defences of “Group Think” as well. The implication is that a diligently critical mind can be the solution to “really bad” groupthink (meaning desiring unity to a violent or propagandic extent) .

My position is that cultures develop and “Group think” is not something that someone can overcome so easily.

Assumptions and “Group think” happen out of necessity — they are a survival mechanism in humans to coordinate behaviors. Humans, even the most solitary ones, are a social animal. We depend on others for our survival. It has gotten to the extent that a disaster tens of thousands of miles away will have serious impacts on my own domestic choices. War in Iraq causes gas prices to go up and I walk to work more.

But I have to agree that we do not want a society that assumes something to be true simply because the majority believe it. Stephen Colbert satirically coined “truthiness” and “wikiality” to poke fun at the very notion that something must be right if some kind of consensus can be built about it. I just don’t think that critical thinking is the solution to the problem. I think that acceptence of diversity (which, I admit, does require some critical thinking — but it requires an open heart more) is the solution.

Acceptence of diversity is hard because it requires that you accept and face those things that make you uncomfortable. When someone sees the world differently from you, the reaction will be fear, irritation, boredom, and anxiety. That’s why I admire people like Norah Vincent. Her book Self-made Man describes her experience of portraying a man and going to the places where she was least comfortable (raunchy strip-bars, bowling alleys etc.) so to understand them better.

That’s what I think bloggers should do to prevent a “bad” Group Think society. The people who make us most upset or uncomfortable might be the best ones to keep us in check in our beliefs. These are the people you want commenting on your blogs (assuming they apply reasonable standards of decency — no threats, needless ad hominems and trolls etc.).

Having groups of people following the same thoughts and assumptions is not a problem. Having everyone with the same thoughts and assumptions (other than broad-based ethical values like “respect for life”) would be bad. That’s why I propose the following for anyone building a knowledge network for themselves.

  1. Read the blogs of those with whom you disagree. Lots of library non-users think librarians are nothing but overpaid book-shelvers. Aren’t these people a better window to our souls than the biggest library advocates?
  2. Welcome dissenters in your own blog. If they contradict everything you say, so what? There’s nothing they can do to stop you from writing your own posts and comments. If they get out of hand, just ignore them and let them have the last word. The last word is not always the best word.
  3. Assume a Charitable Reading of a bad comment, or even better — assume your dissenter is right! Even if you end up being right in the end, your dissenter has done you the favor of identifying gaps in your argument that you may be able to fill.
  4. Befriend the weirdo. There’s a line in The Tipping Point that the most interesting and important people to talk to in a crowd are the people who appear out of place. If you are ever at a meeting of suits and a goth appears, it’s the goth that you want to talk to. It’s the goth that will be able to uncover your own proclivities toward groupthink and sameness. I’m not sure where you find the weirdo in the blog world, but this might be a start.
  5. Deal with illegalities accordingly, but don’t hold a grudge. A grudge is groupthink in action. Worse, a grudge probably also means that you are thinking about your opponent alot more than your opponent thinks about you.

If Web 2.0 emphasizes community, then the blogger needs to think hard about what community means to him or her. In my view community is not a straight-forward “majority wins” kind of world, although the majority probably should win most times. Community to me means arguments and grievances, negotiation and disputes combined with a fair deal of comraderie and friendship. Heck, even throw some love and relationships in there too. The ideal world is one where you get all sorts of views from all sorts of places.

I can only hope that this blog may someday gather this sort of “community” one day.

5 Things in Under Five Words

I’ve been tagged by Kathryn Greenhill for this mutated meme. Five [more] things you didn’t know about me, but in less than 5 words each:

  1. Won the Louis Vagianos Medal
  2. Pho is a favorite snack.
  3. Played necrophile in Levin Play.
  4. I’m a pretty good curler.
  5. Wanna pen a CIL in.

Apologies in advance for tagging these people (no pressure at all to come through on this)! Meredith, David, Jenny, Susan and Walt.

The Crux of the Biscuit: Do I Believe in Libraries?

Probably three nights ago, I was reading to my three-year-old son like I always do before he goes to bed. This time, I read a non-fiction book called Amazing Creations . Basically, this is a primer that writes descriptions of some famous world landmarks like the Pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt and the Eiffel Tower.

I noted at least one factual error in the book — it includes the myth that the Great Wall of China can be seen from Outer Space.

It is fairly US-centric, including more than average US landmarks (Mt. Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building etc.) and one of them caught my son’s eye: The Hoover Dam.

“Tell me more, about it Dad.” says he.

This is a hard thing. I know nothing about the Hoover Dam. That’s a US thing, that I might see if I’m in the vicinity and learn more about as a tourist. But I can’t say anything interesting about the dang thing. So my reply is:

“I think you will have to go to the library to learn more.”

And that decision right there has me thinking about the degree to which libraries are relevant in the Web 2.0 technology world. The Crux of the Biscuit here is this: Will telling my son to go to the library be more effective for his life-long-learning than telling him to look it up on the net. In a very superficial way, the answer is “no.” The Internet would be a much, much more efficient way to get the answer to his question. And indeed, if I didn’t already know that the library was part of his weekly routine, I probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at the Internet.

But in a more “thinking big picture way” I am emphatic that my son will have an advantage over other kids because I choose to say “go to the library.” I admit a bias here, but I have an experience that supports this theory. Here are six reasons I think sending a kid to the library to find out about stuff is better than telling him/her to look it up on the net.

  1. The Learning Environment
  2. An Other Mind
  3. Serendipity
  4. The Digi-Print Combo
  5. Creating a Learning Routine
  6. The Motivational Factor

The Learning Environment

If they are designed well, libraries will encourage learning. Everything from where the chairs are set to the kinds of symbols and toys placed around the building should foster a love of learning in a child. Compare this to the average bedroom, office or kitchen table. The home or office is a place to be productive.   That too, is the symbolism of the computer.  On a computer either you are playing games or doing work or that’s the attitude anyway.

Learning is neither playing or work. It should not be seen as frivolous nor should it be something that should be rushed.  Learning is a serious yet fun activity that helps a human being develop.  A library is designed to emphasize the fun-yet- serious aspect of learning.

When my son walked into the library, he paid homage to all his favorite things — the penguins who were dressed up for the cold now it was Winter and especially all the other kids in the place who were reading, learning and having fun too.   There was nothing productive nor wasteful about the experience.   It was a library visit — transcending a crass cost-benefit analysis.

An Other Mind

When I called this blog “The Other Librarian” I partly meant that the way to access true librarianship was to imagine an “Other” that could challenge opinions, destroy assumptions and keep a person second guessing about what it means to be “library”.

Diversity is an essential part of learning in my view and a Google search doesn’t cut it, or at least not on its own. In my view, there is an intrinsic value to asking someone else to help you with a search. If nothing else, the other person could end up using different search terms than those you might try yourself.

I am an auditory learner. This means I learn better when I can express my thoughts to someone else, even if they are only a “sounding board” for my ideas. That Other person is a godsend for this kind of learning style.

My son loved sharing that he wanted to know more about the Hoover Dam with library staff. Even more he enjoyed that they asked him questions to pin-point what he really wanted. The “other minds” there helped him get at his own desire for knowledge and that is something that Google could not do.


Actually, before my little guy asked for the information on the Hoover Dam, he first asked for a puzzle. Then he asked for a game so he could flick a spinner and count the squares to put him where he belonged on the board. Then he saw a book on Motor Graders and grabbed that for a while.  At this library visit, his learning was not restricted to a specific “information need” but developed into an information haven, where all the neurons in his head would snap, crackle and pop as he went from resource to resource.

Faceted searching aside, Dewey still does a great job of sexing up a search. Even though Amazon and Library Thing has book covers to attract people’s attention online, they do not have the diversity of shapes, colors, sizes and contasts that the physical library has. And there is a “slow” serendipity about the physical library too. After your average Library Thing session, I usually feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. After a library visit, I feel more satisfied and relaxed.

The Digi-Print Combo

There is nothing like using a computer with a good print resource on your lap. The library encourages this sort of multitasking better than the average home office.

After Mr. Hoover Dam got his book, he wanted to use a family computer. I didn’t have my card at the time, but I can just imagine sitting with him and comparing the book information to the Internet information. This is true triangulation of sources — a high-level research skill that he’s learning at three-years-old. Library-ho!

Creating a Learning Routine

It’s fairly simple. Get hooked on the three-week circulation cycle, and you have a darn good habit for yourself and all your family. This means that you can re-think what sources you will check every-so-often and, well, just remember to add some learning to all the other routines in your life.

We never get stuck in a rut of “favorite books” at any one time. Sure my guy has his favorite books and such, but we always have a helping of something different to try out. He’s always interested at story time.   I have the library to thank for that.

The Motivational Factor

Alot has been written about motivation in learning, especially in the e-learning environment. Keeping interested in learning is something that cannot really be forced. There has to be some kind of factor that keeps people chugging along with the life-long learning train. For some, this is the fear of bad marks or other sorts of failure. For my son, the motivation is seeing the big Arthur doll at the information desk, or having a bunch of staff dote over him.

For other people, the library can have a lot of motivational benefits. Love can be one. Coffee is another. A productive day on the laptop might be yet another. If the library is doing what it is supposed to be doing, you ought to want to come back time and time again. This means you are learning and liking it. Learning and liking it will make great things happen to you — you will be healthier, smarter, and a sucker less often.

So, do I believe in libraries, even in an age where the Internet is faster and references questions are becoming scarce? You betcha big time. As a citizen, I would fight to the death before letting a flippant “it’s all on the Internet” editorial destroy the reputation of the public library. It’s not all on the Internet. Anyone who says it is needs to get out [to the library] more.

Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research — Second Issue is Rarin’ to Go

Partnership is an open-access journal that started a month or so ago and it was a great success.   More hits to that journal in one month than this blog had in six.   Dang!

(Rehashed SSP warning) 

That said, my article was read the most, because it was the Library Link of Day on December 27th.


Anyway, if you are interested in publishing, this might be the thing for you.   The scope is pretty vast, so you probably can find some section that will interest you.   So go for it.  Make yourself famous!

Me-too-isms, Social Movements and Libraries

One of my favorite Monty Python skits is the one where German and Greek philosophers are pitted against each other in a soccer match. They all line up for the competition, yet when the whistle blows, instead of kicking the ball they engage in a “philosopher pose” making for a hilarious, yet definitively inactive sports match.

What I take from this satire is that values that may appear wholesome and good in one piece of space and time, looks absolutely ridiculous in another.

In my view, this is the subtext underlying the discussion at Information Wants to Be Free , Tinfoil + Raccoon and other places.

To quote a few things being said, here is Meredith:

It’s great to see people criticizing things and coming up with new ideas (and there were some terrific posts on the woeful state of the OPAC). But then the groupthink takes over and people just echo the same ideas over and over again, without adding anything new or productive. What’s the point of that? I don’t need to read the same exact thing on 50 blogs.

And Rochelle says this:

In response to the lively, honest discussion happening at Information Wants to Be Free about “groupthink” and me-tooism, I’m going to offer an amendment to my politeness post. In my post, I wrote

There are a lot of people blogging about library issues, and I’ve tried to resist the pull of me-tooism.

Here’s my amended statement: There are a lot of people blogging about library issues, and I’ve tried to resist the pull of uncritical me-tooism.

In this discussion, I have defended Groupthink and “me-tooism.” I may even find myself defending “uncritical me-tooism,” not because I am a me-tooist or uncritical, but because I think uncritical me-tooism achieves great things when it has the right checks and balances coming from critical thinkers like [ahem] myself, Meredith and Rochelle.

Let’s go back to philosopher soccer match. The reason why philosophers suck at soccer is because they are critical. To the philosopher, kicking a goal has no purpose, and certainly preferring to kick a goal in two apparently equal soccer nets makes no sense.

To the soccer player, scoring a goal helps to achieve a commitment she made to the people on her team. Somewhere along the lines, the soccer player understood that she is playing soccer to score goals and keep the opposing team from scoring goals of their own. After a good deal of critical thought [or maybe not], this person has decided this is what he/she wants. It is meaningful to her to win soccer games and, better yet, to be the best soccer player she can be. And being critical about why she is scoring a goal is not the way to be a good soccer player.

Because soccer is a team sport, this commitment to goal scoring is a sort of [even uncritical] groupthink. When I think about the “OPACs Suck” and Library 2.0 memes, that is the way I see them. Sure, Nazi Germany had groupthink, but so did the Human Rights Movement under MLK and so did Indian anti-colonial movements under Ghandi.

So, while I am a critical thinker, I think having Group-thinkers is a good thing. The “OPACs suck” drumming will bring us better OPACs faster than a “while there are some things about the opac that are still passable, I think we ought to tweak . . .” introspective post. And I desperately want the “OPACs suck” crowd to win this battle, even if they go too far and bring us some things that are broken with it. That’s because I believe this is the right thing to do.

Oh — it is also wrong to suggest that philosophers have no business on the soccer field. Philosophers make good referees. Referees recommend the rules of engagement, pass judgement on deadlock situations, and let the players know when they’ve gone too far. And do referees get attacked for their critical behavior from the Groupthinkers? You bet. Everyone at the soccer game hates the referee. But they also know that the game is apt to suck if there are no rules enforced.

That means referees have to be brave, forthright, diplomatic in some cases and decisive. Sometimes they have to ignore the soccer players that disagree with their calls, in the understanding that once the emotions have blown over, there is still a soccer game going on and harping on a bad call is not going to score goals for the team. And just because a player yells at you doesn’t mean you have to stop making good calls.

And for the people who feel threatened by all this, well — I guess I see you as an arm-chair referee. You can always criticize where it’s safe to do so, but you’re not going to change much unless you get behind a player, team or referee.

So that’s why I defend “Groupthink” despite all the negative connotations placed on it by the Wikipedia article. The “OPAC sucks” groupthink may not be very precise to critical thinkers like me — nor is it very compelling reading — but it may just get better OPACs for my users. And if it does that, then I am in the stands singing “go go go!”