The Real Pangs of Librarian 2.0

Michelle Boule recently responded to my Librarian 2.0 / Library 2.0 post with a response of her own. In it she writes:

“I thought the post was going to be about how we have produced a larger number of 2.0 Librarians, but sadly, very few 2.0 Libraries.”

I was surprised, because what she wrote there was pretty much what I thought I wrote, except maybe take out the “sadly” part. I took a look at 3 basic indicators of a 2.0 library — comments and tags in the catalogue, gaming permitted and the use of social softwares and commented on how we are doing with the three, but concluded that, ultimately, the change has happened in librarians more than it has in libraries. Perhaps I was too kind on libraries for not making change happen quickly enough.

Michelle believes that 2.0 librarians in 1.0 libraries are frustrated at the rate of change in libraries. She thinks, ultimately, that 2.0 librarians will move elsewhere to places where innovation is encouraged more. I think there is some merit in what she says. I do think librarians will move to where the good libraries are.  In general.  Sort of.

In specific, where I see 1.0-ness in MPOW as almost solely my own responsibility. Somehow,  I didn’t work hard enough, plan well enough or speak convincingly enough to make the change happen.

I cannot make a 2.0 library without each and every last staff person coming along with me — and that includes the very ludditest of luddite 1.0 librarians. Whereas some are calling for radical change, I am willing to work with steady forward progress. Why? Well here are some good reasons:

I could be bored to death waiting for a Second Life patron to visit our Second Life Library

I have been on Second Life three times recently at different times of the day and all three times, no one was there. Not librarians. Not anyone. Right now, the supply of Second Life libraries far exceeds the demand. In fact, I see the area as totally confusing right now with libraries from just about everywhere crowding a space where one library would suffice.

I have never done any creation on SL, nor do I fully understand how the process works, but what I am really looking for — librarians & library-interested patrons — are just not there.   I am really happy not have to choose between staffing a service that is bringing little value to my users, or worse, worrying that a my MPOW’s name is out there in a ghostland.

So, the truth is, maybe people ought to lay off the Second Life thing and let the libraries that are there currently gather a patron base.   That could happen — I see the potential of Second Life — but I’m more than happy to have gone slow in this instance.

I could have a totally RSS’d up website that users hate

I love RSS.   I think the model of library service that RSS enables is great too — get the library news where you get your local news.    I have seen examples of websites that are high on RSS and very very low on usability.   In order to use an RSS feed, people need to find the RSS feed.   Finding the RSS feed takes architecture and architecture takes time.

Although unscientific, here is some data I have that might suggest the predominance of RSS with librarians.   And, frankly, I bet this data is amplified for the rest of the world.

When a popular blog like librarian.net, LISNews, Information Wants to be Free, Library Stuff or Librarian in Black links to me, I can see my stats go from an average of 50-100 hits per day (might be more now) to about 250-350 for the duration that the post is interesting.     My guess is that these are folks who are subscribed to these blogs’ RSS feeds and find their way to me.

Last week, the ALA e-Newsletter put a link to my blog for the “Under the Hood” post.   My stats had a full two days of 800+ posts and I’m still ranging in the 400+ range.   In short, email is still the major mode of information access — for librarians and regular public.   RSS will grow, but for now, it is absolutely on the margins of information access points.

I could put out big promises in an arena where we cannot meet expectations.

Our customers expect us to know everything about technology.    We do not.   If we put out a service, people will expect us to be able to help them get at it.   If they cannot, they will ask us for help.   If, when they ask us for help, and staff go “Flickr, who?” we look absolutely dumb.   That is why I keep on harping on the training benefits of something like Learning 2.0.

I could be evil.

More than one person pointed this out, but Web 2.0 doesn’t really address the digital divide in specific terms.   Putting out services that benefit a few, high-tech oriented users at the cost (however minimal) of services that may directly resolve serious community needs is evil.  We can’t call ourselves professionals unless we put time and thought into ethics of a new service.

Process Matters.

In the end, I guess librarian 2.0 has to ask his or herself “is this resistance to change flat-out stubbornness or due process?”   If its the former, than I think Michelle is right — we are going to see people moving away from the laggard libraries and fighting for jobs in the innovative (and probably resource rich) libraries.

If it’s the latter, I think librarian 2.0 needs to hold on for a moment and look at how to move forward.    Some people feel as if they hit a brick wall when the bureaucracy gets heavy.   But sometimes the wall is there for good reason.    The good news is that the wall does not always have to come down to make change happen.  Scaling the wall is sometimes just as good.  The important thing is to think your way through the problem and focus less on a “golden age” of library 2.0 and more on the next positive step in that direction.

Sometimes gradual is better; sometimes gradual is faster.

Conclusion

I agree that it is frustrating that Librarian 2.0 is happening faster than Library 2.0.   Sometimes lack of change happens because of stubborn staff, lack of leadership, or literal suppression by the environment (ie. resistance happening external to the library).  This is where librarian 2.0 needs to consider looking elsewhere to be the librarian she/he always wanted to be.

Other times, lack of change is just imminent but slow change.   This is where librarian 2.0 needs to look even deeper into the culture of his/her POW and see where, precisely, the change can take root.  Here are some suggested questions:

  • Who are the people that make things happen in the organization?   Focus on these people first.   Hint:  It’s not always the person with the highest salary.
  • What are the basic assumptions that people make when they think of service?  Try to translate the current change in terms of those assumptions if it is possible to do so.
  • What are the benefits of what you are proposing?   What’s the best way to illustrate these benefits?
  • Stay focussed on the problem and illustrate your Library 2.0 idea as one alternative solution to the problem.    If your resistor kindly agrees that “yes, we really need a way to access non-users,” than it will get harder and harder to say “no” as you repeatedly illustrate how (say) RSS can do the job with little-to-know cost.   It will be particularly hard when the resistor has no ideas flowing his/herself.
  • Keep moving forward and be persistent.
  • Sometimes the smallest opportunity opens alot of doors to new thinking.  Be on the lookout.

Library 2.0 will happen (though it may not be called Library 2.0 by the time we get there), so long as librarians 2.0 continue moving forward, however slowly.   Frustration is fine so long as it remains an emotion and does not fester into a way of life.   No one will benefit from an upgrade to frustration 1.0.