(Or at least my impression about it).
You know, I never really write about Flickr, blogs, wikis etc. To me, these things are just too obvious to talk about — basically it’s all file sharing. But that shows my hubris, because as I look at things like the 5 weeks phenomenon and Sarah Houghton-Jan’s course, there is alot of demand to know about these things, what they are and how they can be implemented in libraries.
This just suggests to me that technology problems are ultimately organizational culture problems. How can something that seems to some to be a “no brainer” seem so high-level risk to others?
I know value is to be had from many of the great technologies out there, whether it be a blog, wiki or whatever. And I know you cannot approach these technologies willy nilly as if implementing a technology has no impact on the way work happens in other places. Lots of unexpected things can happen and it all needs to be accounted for.
In some ways, these facts are common ground for both “yeah-ers” and “nay-ers” in the tech world. When one looks at the “forest” of the biblioblogosphere, one is apt to see a cyclic dialectic of “yeah-ers” emphasizing value and the “nay-ers” rebutting with the need for planning. Then the “yeah-ers” say “I know that things need to be planned, but remember the value this offers and then the “nay-ers” say the same in reverse and so on.
Anyone looking from the outside must be saying “you folks agree! Stop the bickering and labeling and wasted breath!”
So what is the problem here? What has changed in the world to make this discussion any more contentious? What is sitting in the silence of all this library 2.0 stuff? What is it that is failing to come across?
I think it is this:
Technology has reached a stage that any idea to implement a technology ought to begin with a “yes.”
I mean it. Begin with a “yes,” then work through the barriers or fit the idea into a list of priorities after. No, that does not mean “implement new technology NOW!” It means “give us techies the benefit of the doubt and then determine if something is not sustainable, too resource-intensive or whatnot after we have had the opportunity to show you it can be successful.”
Say “yes” and then say “let me see the model or plan” and then criticize it on its merits. Then do a 5-minute Google or Wikipedia search to find out what we are trying to do. Say “yes” first, then ask the hard questions and when the idea falls off the rails say “ok — let’s look at this for another time.”
Here’s a list of at least 10 reasons why I say this:
- Unlike the past, technology is very cheap. We are in a world where Dell is about to sell desktop computers to China for about $300 bucks each. In general, it is getting harder to spend technology budgets without new ideas [lots of them] coming around behind it.
- Like has been demonstrated in Desk Set, computers are a complement to, not a threat to front-line personal interaction-based services.
- Despite our gripes, librarians know about information technology better than a good lot of professionals. This is a solid nische for librarians everywhere. It can give us credibility in the outside world where it is so deeply desired in the profession.
- We need to be a voice for the benefits of technology as a counter-point to all the lawyers, police and over-reactive parents who suggest, imply or say outright that the internet is all about security risks and invasion of privacy. If we move cautiously in this role, we will be rowing this librarian-ship, in a world full of motor-powered yachts.
- Some of the stuff the techies are proposing are alot less difficult to maintain than traditional approaches that get a “yes” almost without a blink of an eye. See this comment I made on Meredith’s blog for more explanation.
- In a world that, for better or worse (I think for worse), lives primarily in cities and towns that require automotive transportation to do just about everything, people from all spectra of life want the convenience of learning at home. Technology facilitates this possibility.
- The way technology is moving right now, if a solution is not quite there right yet, it could very well be in less than 3 years.
- People need to play to learn. The actual act of doing a doomed-from-the-start project may have benefits that outweigh even those that would have occurred if the project was successful.
- Staff are people too. Many technologies used at work can have great benefits at home. That goes for you too.
- We are dying to flex our muscles, because we have been working hard at building them. Starting with “no” is like telling us we are fat in our jeans. We know we are not. We know we are sexy, in-demand and turning heads everywhere we go. You will not teach us humility, it will be through action, mistake and consequences that we will gain that virtue. You might as well let it happen. Library staff will be retiring in the near future — more than mere working bodies, you will be losing experience in your organizations. You need to be building that stuff up in your staff lickety-split. This is what performance management is all about.
In sum, the world of technology has changed. Implementing information technology is not like planning a NASA-sanctioned trip to Mars anymore. Sure, it does need planning and purpose and placement in a priority list, but it also needs to be flowing downstream in the white water like a rubber dinghey, with your staff riding on top of it.
A good way to keep things flowing downstream is to say “yes” to a tech idea first and then tell us not to forget our lifejackets.