Superpatrons at the cusp of a Neo-Progressive Movement?

Edward Vielmetti, the ever illustrious Super-patron left a comment on my post called “We asked for 2.0 Libraries and we got 2.0 Librarians.” To spare you the use of your back button, I’ll put it here (it’s not long):

“library patron 2.0″. discuss

For a librarian to respond to this call is a bit like playing with a loaded gun. A librarian calling for a pseudo-reform in his/her patrons is kind of like reverting to librarian 1.0. I don’t think this is what Ed intended by the statement, however, so here is the best response I can offer for a patron to “take it to the next level” so to speak:

  1. Learn what you love to learn (until it hurts).
  2. Read what you love to read (until it hurts).
  3. Develop a sense of community, and foster it in others (until it hurts).
  4. Insist that your library support #s 1-3 (until it hurts [us]).
  5. Shame your library with cool inventions when we fail at #4.
  6. Share (via technology if you can) what you know if you think it will make another patron’s life better.

That’s my first crack at a patron 2.0, and now it is out of my brain and on to this blog, I realize that only #5 is that different from the kinds of reforms we have asked from our patrons for, like, ever.

Are we taking advantage of our Superpatrons?

Clearly, there is an opportunity for libraries to engage the broader community of online patrons to work actively toward improving library service. Why not an online advisory board? Whether requested via an Expression of Interest or hand-picked from some influential open-source community (Linus Torvalds as library tech advisor? That might light a fire under some tech innovators at your library), the technology is out there to engage superpatrons in ways that get them thinking proactively about their libraries’ web presence. Just a thought.

Neo-progressivism is Coming! What is the Response?

Though not a term I have coined, I believe that a sort of neo-progressive movement is upon us, and that the interest of people in libraries is part of this movement. By neo-progressive, I mean that certain circles of people are echoing the principles that founded such things as the Olympics, the Salvation Army, libraries and prohibition (ok. not everything about a movement can be good). That is, make yourself better physically, intellectually and morally so you can become a more proficient member of your community.

But there is an added piece to this, for the future I think: even if you are not the strongest, smartest, or goody-two-shoes in your community, do simple, proactive things that will improve the world’s situation. Examples:

  • environmentalists asking people to take small actions (buy fluorescent bulbs, quit idling at drive-thrus etc.) to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Bill Gates et. al. spending billions of dollars to support international efforts in a kind of philantropy termed “social entrepreneurship.”
  • Increased community outrage over violence by teenagers.
  • Blogs, wikis, Facebook groups, emails etc. advocating just about everything.

Granted, individuals can look at many of these actions with a great deal of skepticism — but the key component is a world on the look out for intelligent and effective “should dos” to help provide meaning in their lives.

Where Libraries and “Should Dos” Connect

If you listened to me when I blogged the Kings of Philantropy podcast from CBC’s Ideas podcast (if you didn’t listen to me then, it’s too late — CBC only keeps about a month’s worth of shows live at any one time), you may have heard the criticism of social entrepreneurs. For instance, if you puts millions of dollars into (say) a polio vaccine in Ghana expecting to save millions of lives, you might want to think again. Why? Well, you have to think about the real problem.

Real Problems and Measureable Solutions

What’s the real problem, you say? Well, so you prevent people from getting polio. Great — but that doesn’t mean you’ve saved a life. Why? Well, when a child is undernourished, Polio may only be the first of a large number of nasty diseases just waiting to attack the poor soul. While a child might not die of Polio, he or she may die of malaria, or cholera or a minor infection or any large number of serious diseases. See, the “problem” is not polio per se, but a poverty-stricken population that is susceptible to polio.

Meanwhile, your actions to solve the polio “problem” may convince government, NGOs and other aid agencies to divert resources away from other activities to jump on the “cure polio” bandwagon. In the end, you may make the community worse off with your great intentions.

Knowledge — global and local — the Library’s Competitive Advantage

If libraries were able to help communities understand their key problems in a local environment, while bringing them access to global technologies, we may be able to offer something, not only to the developing world, but everwhere.

The key difference is that librarians can no longer assume that the world of knowledge is sitting behind them, among the stacks. In the neo-progressive world, knowledge stands opposite the desk — with the patron. Our role is two-fold. 1) keep the “desk” from getting in the way of the patron’s access to information and 2) create an environment where the patron can see the answers to his or her problems from within — within the community and within him/her self. If we can do this, then we can solve real problems. . .

. . . and Library Patron 2.0 will take its place as the real Library 2.0.

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