Yes, that’s me scratching his head on the ladder. It was early – what do you want? 🙂
So, I’ve posted my reply to the Why Professional Librarian is an Oxymoron post called (More than) Ten Reasons Why “Professional librarian” Isn’t an Oxymoron on Library Journal. Now people are probably wondering, ‘was he just kidding?’, ‘did he cave into pressure? from the field?’, ‘is he being dishonest?’ and so on. It raises questions (for me) about the nature of blogging itself, how it is perceived by a broader audience, and more importantly, how it’s going to change over time.
The dominant paradigm for publishing — and this includes academic publishing — is the scientific or pseudo-scientific approach. The assumption here is that there needs to be an answer, that can be defended or rejected, and if defended, a ‘theory’ will be shaped around that answer to help us come to broader conclusions about the world we live in. This assumption is the reason why more than one person insisted that I ‘need to define “professionalism” or the whole exercise is pointless’. If I define professionalism in a certain way, then people can live in the comfort zone of ‘well, under those circumstances, I can accept that librarians are not a profession.’
And that’s why the professionalism post took on the shape it did. Some in support, some against, and afterwards, I need to come to some conclusion about whether librarianship truly *is* a profession. Tah-dah! Now we can all write journal articles about professionalism and develop a whole theory of professionalism to add to all our dismal literature.
There is another, different paradigm, that is emerging in society however. I’m going to call it the ‘co-creative’ paradigm. In this paradigm, my post was an exposition – a call for a community to define librarian professionalism for itself. The assumption is not that there is a right answer, but an emergent or evolving answer – something we can use to build our futures together, to create change, and improve lives. The goal in this paradigm is not the ever important ‘answer’ but the relationships and conflict that happen around that discussion. It is here that paradoxes like ‘librarians are and are not a profession’ are okay. Under this paradigm, strong emotions are a means to an end, a way of connecting people and building a dialogue (not necessarily a consensus) around our differences. I think blogs can lend themselves to this paradigm as well, IF the main post and the comments are seen as one voice.
Things that help me understand this new paradigm are new ideas in Restorative processes (including justice), The Hub (a co-creative workspace), grassroots movements and unconferences. I think there is a way to make social media play into these processes more, I just haven’t quite found the right way.
As I write this, MPOW is beginning the process of distributing it’s new strategic plan. The previous mission and vision spoke to the ever important goals of life-long learning, joy of reading and power of information. Our new mission and vision value the same things, but realize that our communities are changing. The new paradigm we are dealing with is about building our futures, and imagining possibilities – with, not for our communities. Our new paradigm sees education and reading as a means now – a way of connecting people, and inspiring discovery. I have to say that i am totally inspired by this new vision in librarianship. I think librarians – professional or not – have strong networking skills on their side and that this skill is the road to a great future for librarians, whereever they decide to work in future. Tally-ho!
A basic Google search will turn up all kinds of blogging and podcasting advice. How to get bonus Google Traffic using SEO tips. How to write great content. How to monetize. How not to become a viral ad for social media marketing douchebags. What to Tweet and What Not to Tweet.
What seems to be missing is what happens when you talk about your blog or podcast in actual public. But, the way that Twitter and Foursquare seem to encourage ‘meet-ups’ and the popularity of large-scale unconferences such as Podcamp Toronto make it more necessary to remind bloggers that the people who read your blog are also the people who are going to try and meet with you in public. They may never ever tell you that they read your blog or listen to your podcast, but that does not mean they do not have a dialogue in their head about what they like or do not like about your web presence.
Enter case study #1 – I’m at a bar mingling with a whole group of people with common interests in social media. I’m excited to meet so may new faces. I join in to a conversation half-way through and a woman is talking about her blog or podcast. She’s bragging about the huge response she gets from her readers claiming , somewhat disingenuously, that she does not know why they bother to follow her. Then comes the punch line: “Maybe they only read my blog because I’m a girl.”
I couldn’t help it – it’s part of my east coast blood to knock anyone just a little off their high horse. I mean no malice nor do I wish to give an air of arrogance, but I reply:
“Actually, I am almost convinced that everyone reads my blog because I’m a boy.”
What followed was a pre-rehearsed tirade of insults for my ‘sarcasm’ that I wasn’t able to hear because the music in the bar was too loud. I happily nodded-and-smiled my way to the end of the conversation and moved on to someone else. It was quite a funny experience, because I didn’t think anyone would take themselves so seriously as to take offence at what was obviously a small joke. But, now I have it behind me, I’m much more willing to take a look at why I would bother to quip at such sillyness.
A litany of red-flags went off when I heard ‘people only read my blog because I am a girl.’ Among other things, it implies:
- ‘my readers and listeners are a bunch of idiot men’
- ‘I create content to cater to stupid audience’
- ‘i will play insipid flirting games with my readers / listeners’
- ‘i am sexist and manipulative’
- ‘i am more than willing to add to internet noise to gain a little attention.’
Intended or not, it left a really bad impression. I felt it hard to imagine following this person or reading any of her content. I was not interested in any social media advice she had to offer. She’d need a real kick-ass portfolio showing some serious writing chops before I’d ever consider hiring her and even then, i’d be worried about the ethical side of her performance.
Of course, this is only a first impression situation. We could end up being the best of buddies. Still, it does say something about personal branding in general and the degree to which internet culture can honestly spill into the so-called ‘real world.’
Here are my ideas about how you might talk about your blog online:
If someone compliments your blog, say “Thank You.”
Nothing else. Do not go on about problems, issues, or mistakes unless people ask you about them. Ask them questions about what they like most about your blog instead. Keep them talking instead. It’s an old trick coming from my singing and acting days. If you do talk about problems and issues with your content, it will sound like you are saying your readers / audience have no taste.
Respect Your Reader/Listener
Your blog/podcast exists not because you write or talk into a microphone, but because there is an audience willing to listen to it. Speak approvingly of the people who make your blog possible. Just because they may enjoy reading trashy (or even *gasp* porn) content once in a while does not mean you can treat them like idiots.
Would you buy a car from an engineer who made even the slightest quip about its design? Nope. Respect your product. Respect that you put a lot of time into your blog and/or podcast. You deserve credit for the mere effort.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about a lack of transparency here. Yes, you definitely want to own up to errors in judgement or fact. What I’m saying is that you should respect the quality of your work and focus on the positive unless there is something glaring that needs to be adjusted.
There’s (Still) a Chasm Between People Who Know and Do Not Know Social Media
In practical terms, this means you could be explaining ‘what is a blog?’ to Chris Brogan or Cory Doctorow or talking about how ow.ly ‘s statistics through Hootsuite compare to bit.ly in front of someone who thinks the Internet is a bunch of pipes. Social media Gurus look pretty much like social media luddites.
It’s all About the Conversation!
Conversation wasn’t invented by Social Media sites believe it or not. The way to start a conversation is to ask questions, take interest, listen to others, appreciate new interests, learn and so on. In this way, a mingle in a bar is not that different from your blog. If you are genuinely interested in what your audience has to say then you are hardly ever going to have people wondering who the heck you are.
Conversely, if you are just name dropping famous bloggers to assert your social media status, you are going to lose very quickly.
Bloggers and podcasters have been a marginalized species for quite a while now. I can appreciate the self-consciousness now that the whole social media thing has become mainstream. There are people who have been in the space for years that are being eclipsed by just about anyone with a computer and digital camera. Social Media ‘experts’ are popping up everywhere, with little or no real social media experience.
Everyone simultaneously knows everything and nothing about social media. Fewer people are asking ‘what is a wiki’, but many of the people in the know still do not understand the usefulness of the ‘revert’ feature.
People are interested more than ever about what bloggers have to say. You finally have an audience willing to listen to you at parties. Relax and enjoy the attention. Answer questions sincerely and honestly – assuming nothing about your listener’s skill level or interests. It’s just a conversation, after all.
What advice / experiences do you have about talking about your blog or podcast in the ‘real world?’
I went to the IPAC Conference here in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada. I used to pay more attention to IPAC when I was doing my MPA. It was interesting that MPOW suggested that I go. I’m glad I did.
If you don’t already know, IPAC is the professional association for Canadian Public Servants.I love their succinct mission statement: ‘to promote excellence in public service.’ (Hear that, ALA?) They publish Canadian Public Administration – a few volumes of which I refer to from time to time when I want to refresh myself on effectiveness in Public Service, or to read an article from Peter Aucoin, one of my favorite profs back in the day.
The theme of the conference was, largely, change. There was alot of talk about the need for change, particularly as it pertained to environmental stewardship and technology. There were a few themes that I took out of the event:
- In order for positive change to happen, organizations need systems to encourage creativity.
- Fear is only a short-term catalyst for change. Even the threat of death does not prevent many people from changing their behaviors.
- People respond to joy. If the change brings joy, people will move towards it.
- The planet is likely to look like a big desert with most of the livable land sitting in Canada and Russia by the year 2050 using current predictions. If we don’t all kill each other first trying to get or stay here.
- So far, the actual observed values for greenhouse emissions have exceeded the worst case scenario predicted values mentioned above.
- Engineers without Borders does not build bridges. Instead, the work with local citizens and groups in developing countries to improve their own lives.
- Compared to some of the countries that EWB serves, Canada’s mobile network is ‘archaic.’ Yes, *behind* countries like Malawi and Kenya.
- I really like Atlantic Superstore‘s green initiatives. They seem intentional and driven by a desire to truly be socially responsible.
- The role of social media in engaging the public is affirmed, by Daniel O’Rourke at volunteer planning and elsewhere.
- Social media guidelines and policies are essential if you want to encourage staff to participate online.
The final thing I learned is that there was a lot to suggest that the systems inside the current bureaucracy (and remember, this was a national effort – there were federal, provincial and municipal public servants from all over Canada) are not available to promote a truly innovative public service. There was a lot in the conference to suggest to me that public servants (in general) are not encouraged to take risks, speak their mind, or ‘rock the boat’ and that they are reminded early on that what they say can come back to them later on.
I think part of this is necessary structure. The role of the bureaucracy is to implement the policies brought to them by the political wing (ie. the elected officials). Thus, to a large extent, someone’s ‘innovation’ would be done at the elected official’s expense. It’s ok to think failure is ok when you face consequences for those failures on your own, but a little more shaky when someone else gets to wear your failures in the face. I suppose this is one reason why hierarchical structures have a reputation for being less innovative.
On the other hand, citizens are alot smarter these days. Technology has let them breach all kinds of conventional means. For instance, it is much easier and more effective to write my disdain for a particular policy in a blog post than it is for me to write my MP or send a letter to the editor in a newspaper. I no longer need a middle person to have my say, and my words can have wings without my government or the media even knowing about it.
Further, citizens are quite aware of the power that bureaucrats have to drive policy in government and they want access to that power. With the Coast ‘live tweeting’ Halifax Regional Municipal Council Meetings, I notice many references to ‘the staffers’ that are called on to advise, and sometimes they are called to task for their opinions or advice as well. Clearly, the public wants at their public servants and they are finding more and more proficient ways of getting to them.
In short, the climate for public service has changed drastically. Citizens can bypass many government processes using simple technology and create policy initiatives on their own – without support from government. With recent budget talks in the province, it leaves me with a lot of questions about the size of government, what government services and programs still remain effective in the 21st century and what infrastructure our society needs so we can begin to solve some traditional government programs on our own.
With a wide range of ‘things’ happening in and around libraryland, including Library 101, Stephen Abram’s paper on open source (pdf), Mark Albertson’s opinion piece on the changing purpose of libraries, and Laurel Tarulli’s recognition that not everyone fully understands what it is that librarians do. It all leads me to think about the ongoing identity crisis of libraries and librarians and what we can do about it. To resolve an identity crisis, we must start with ‘what is it that libraries are for?’
This question will inevitably lead to a wide range of self-assured, but diverse, answers followed by a smaller range of more complex and uncertain opinions on the purpose of libraries and librarians. Clarity on this topic is also not helped by the diverse types of libraries (Academic, Public, AskPro – I mean Special libraries and so on). Here is a selection of the self-assured responses:
- Libraries are for the lending of books
Indeed, the earliest libraries were just this this – a small business, museum or other place would take it upon themselves to educate their neighbours by lending out their collection of books. As collections increased, these places would need innovative means to organize and provide access to such books and innovative people to do the innovative work – thus librarians were invented. Current libraries continue to offer ‘the lending of books’ as a key service. However, as processes slowly became replaced through automation, ‘librarians’ (meaning those with a Masters degree in this case) have been taken away from these activities in favor of a more broad slate of activities like instruction or management.
- Libraries are for educating people of all ages
Since reading inevitably increases the brainpower of communities, an educational role for libraries seems fairly obvious. In academic and school libraries, this role is the most obvious and apparent, since the institutions that host them are largely educational ones. The educational role for public libraries is also substantiated by the departments that govern many libraries. In British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan (at minimum) public libraries are governed by Departments of Education.
While the educational role for libraries is strong, it is not perfect. For instance, many assume ‘education’ to be analgous with ‘courses’ which, while many libraries do offer courses of all types, this activity is not particularly core to what libraries actually do. An early article that I wrote about e-Learning highlighted what I thought about the prospect of public libraries attempting to ‘teach’ their way into the public’s hearts:
“Online course” has not really caught on as effective service in the public paradigm. While it may be difficult for library professionals who have spent a good amount of their lives taking courses to realize this, the broader public is more than happy to be finished with their schooling and be in a place where they can earn their own pay and learn at their own pace. In general terms, online courses do not sound fun to “Josephine (Joe) Public Library”. They sound like obligations or New Year’s resolutions to go alongside “lose weight” or “spend less.” Worse, they reinforce stereotypes about the public library as an “ought to” place, rather than a “place to be.” That means that to “Joe (Josephine) Public Librarian”, e-learning sounds like a flop before it even takes shape in an organization.
In the public library context, and perhaps in a variety of contexts including Academic libraries, ‘education’ is an unsatisfactory or incomplete answer to the question ‘what is the purpose of a library?’
- Libraries are for preserving and/or promoting community culture
The cultural role of libraries is also supported through governance as Ontario, PEI and Manitoba all have their libraries under Departments of Culture of one sort or another, while Canada’s National Bank continues to be under the Department of Heritage. Quebec’s merger of its Bibliothèque Nationale into the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) further supports the idea that libraries have a cultural role to play.
The cultural role for libraries is also frought with problems because it pits them into competition with museums, symphonies, archives, concert halls that are more closely tied to cultural development and yet offer services that involve the development of culture rather than the storage of it. The cultural role for libraries is largely a supportive one at best and does not speak to the value a library has in the community.
- Other roles
While I have covered three important roles for libraries, I have definitely not exhausted a wide range of purposes that can equally be championed. Here are a few examples:
- Championing information rights including the avoidance of censorship
- Introducing the public to new and emerging forms of information formats, including the Internet, Social Media and Gaming.
- Promoting the economic development of a community by encouraging innovation and providing key services to tourists, immigrants and new residents.
- Fostering a love of reading and learning, particularly in children.
- Being the public place for the community, where people can interact, socialize and be visible.
And so on. This list is hardly exhaustive, but it covers some of the key roles people insist that libraries play. It is such a hard call. Libraries appear to have so many priorities that they could not possibly be considered ‘expert’ at fulfilling any single one of them. Worse, some of these roles, it could be argued, ‘crowd out’ private sector services, using tax dollars to distort free markets. For instance, couldn’t gaming programs be offered by a local business for a charge, rather than offered for free through public library programs?
My person view is that the identity of libraries are so tied to their communities that there is no end of roles for them. That’s why I titled this post ‘Libraries are Miscellaneous.’ The reality is that the purpose of a library depends heavily on the culture, location and structure of its community. That’s why I really enjoy and press the ‘Community Relations’ role it can play. Libraries, especially public libraries, are extremely adaptive to community needs and can play the role of ‘catch all’ where other institutions such as hospitals, universities and schools really struggle to play such a role.
The risk, in my view, is that we pay too much attention to what other libraries are doing and immediately follow suit because ‘that’s what a library is for.’ Or, perhaps worse, we fail to do something completely different from other libraries because there are no library pioneers to look to for guidance. We cannot do everything that every library is doing – and we should not feel ‘behind’ because we fail to do every latest cool thing. Ethically, we should be very conscious of the ‘crowding out’ theory as well — we simply should not compete — to an unfair advantage — with services already available in the community.
So, if you ask me what ‘the purpose of a library is,’ I would say that libraries:
- look at their communities to determine needs
- apply encouragement and leadership to the community to see if they can meet their own needs
- point to and promote community assets (including books, meeting rooms etc.) when they can be helpful
- continue to be a growing organism ala Ranganathan
I don’t know if these count as new “Rules of Library Science” or a “Darien Statement” but that’s the closest I can get to understanding what libraries and librarians are for.
To what degree can restorative practices be applied to the act of leading people to information? To me, it does not hurt to ponder the possibilities. I’ve been working in the community on these lines recently, and see many many connections to what libraries and librarians already do. Certainly, restorative practices already are used to resolve organizational conflicts and problems. It also applies to the concept of leadership within the community. And of course, public libraries tie in to the idea of habilitating young people into society before they ever have negative encounters with the justice system. But let’s start at the beginning – explaining restorative practices as they apply to justice, how they have changed to apply to a more broad spectrum of ideas and finally how they might apply to libraries.
What is Restorative Justice?
s. Restorative Justice refers to a number of things:
- it is a formal practice (conferencing) that focuses on how one person’s actions caused harm and the effect that harm had on others.
- it is a means to prevent crime by increasing social capital and establishing norms for resolving problems before people commit crimes.
- it is thinking less about punitive (doing to) and paternalistic (doing for) methods of justice and more about collaborative (doing with) means that include (among others) the people harmed, support people for the people harmed, and support persons for the person doing harm.
Anyone witnessing a restorative justice conference will likely see a contrast between what is said in conference (where solutions and repairing harm are emphasized) and what might be said in the media (where the emphasis is usually on conflict and strife).
Last year, Isaac Gilman managed to apply the formal Restorative Justice practices to library service in his article, “Beyond Books: Restorative Librarianship in Juvenile Detention Centers” that can be found in this volume of Public Libraries.
Restorative Practices More Broadly
Social capital does more than prevent crime, and that’s why restorative practices are used outside the justice concept. For instance, school disciplinary processes can include a restorative model and businesses will use restorative practices to resolve Human Resources conflicts. Another interesting thing is that people are learning to use other mechanisms to “Do With” (circle conversations, World Cafe, Open Space and so on) that may ‘ignite’ as well as ‘restore.’ Thus, a paradigm of ‘restorative practices’ has been adopted and may be growing over time as people catch on to what this stuff is all about.
In the broad scope, and why I support unconferences in general is that restorative practices are capacity building. You see the results weeks, months and even years after you have acted and continue to see the results over and over and over again. This is in contrast to the “big event” where people get together and vent, gripe, learn, teach or whatnot and usually forget what they learn within a few months and/or look back with frustration because no one has ever acted upon the outcomes of the ‘big event.’
Where This All Connects to Librarianship
This development of ‘long term’ outcomes, focussed on community needs and developing the community’s ability to solve its own problems ought to sound pretty familiar to those who remember the Slow Library, Library 2.0 and Evidence Based Library camps. But what sorts of things are libraries doing or could be doing to promote a ‘restorative’ mindset? Here are a few:
- Support and/or initiate unconferences (aka Podcamps, Barcamps, DrupalCamps, FooCamps, Pecha Kuchas etc etc etc) in the community. Like David Lee King did in Topeka , we did here in Halifax, or what Ann Arbor and Darien seem to do on a reasonably regular basis.
- Learn more about restorative practices, perhaps by volunteering locally. For instance, The Community Justice Society is involved in Community Justice here in Halifax.
- Attend other unconference-like events held around town.
- Just remember the “Doing With” model whenever you engage in library instruction, reference, cataloguing or whatever you do. Think about how many times we have ‘Done For” and how much better it would be if people could learn together – in collaborative, and therefore more innovative and fun ways.
And please please please don’t berate me for the language used here (I see problems with the word ‘restorative’ already. This is not about how we say stuff. This is about doing. Winning. And loving how we win and do.
Today’s local paper had a toilet bowl on the cover. A toilet bowl. Yes, I know the article was about how the new Sewage Treatment plant in Halifax is done broke and won’t be fixed for a while. But guess what? We didn’t have a Sewage Treatment plant attached to the harbour a few years ago. Neither did we have one in Dartmouth nor Herring Cove but we do now. In short, this story is not about poop as the paper seems to want to frame that story, but about tax payers dollars and accountability. The toilet bowl is just a ridiculous ploy to get my eyeballs on their front page. (Aside: the director of this project’s name is Brad Anguish, a name that must speak to the way he must feel over the way the media is treating this story.) It also does not surprise me that the toilet graphic appears nowhere online. Why? because the Halifax blogger world would be screaming “lame” so fast it would create a repeat of the Juan Hurricane disaster in under 30 seconds.
Print media in general is in a sad state overall. I don’t mean to pick on the Herald over this. To be fair, sensationalism has been selling print since paper was invented. The Metro , the replacement for the now defunct Daily News, is little more than a National Enquirer with a Sports page. The Coast has long since hosted Dan Savage’s column, Savage Love, to draw people to their often myopic and peninsula-centric left-wing biased content. The Herald, though, is the Halifax news paper though. I criticize them the most because this incidence of lameness hurts the most. The toilet bowl picture is yet another step away from real news and two steps toward becoming a silly gossip rag.
It all makes me feel as if the print news industry that I loved so dearly has become likened to Cher, refusing to accept it’s age and slowly applying make-up, then cosmetic surgery, then outrageous outfits and barely-legal boyfriends to keep the public’s attention just that one decade longer. Compare to the more classy Meryl Streep that just keeps using talent, grace to entertain and amaze her audiences. Actually, this situation is worse, because it’s almost as if Meryl Streep in a moment of sad desperation decided that being Cher was the best way to carry her career into the future.
In the end, this is not a Chronicle Herald problem, or even a print media problem – it’s a community news problem. People who do not have regular access to computers should not be fed this tripe, while those with computers and social media savvy end up being the ones who get the real news – from blogs, from Twitter, on Facebook, from news sources that understand the Internet and syndicated through RSS services like Google Reader or Bloglines. A world where most of the world is mired in Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears and Fox News, while some of the world is mired in Rocketboom, and localized Twitter searches is not one that I would like to live in.
What are the solutions? Here’s what I have to offer, some library-related, some just people related:
- The world needs more podcamps that think outside the fishbowl. Podcamps are about social media folk being understood, but it’s also about regular community understanding. One of the most significant things I took away from Andrew Baron’s keynote last January was that people need opportunities to engage online communities in meaningful ways, instead of just looking at it through a window in their own room. The analogy that Andrew used was that if I was in North Korea, I would only truly be able to say I understood the people of that country if I was able to have conversations, eat their food, play their games etc. It would be folly to try and understand them from my hotel room looking outside the window.
- Newspapers need to find effective ways to get their archives out to the public (even for pay), so they can understand paper/print’s role in preserving history. All these Web 2.0 services can offer no guarantee that what we write today will be around 10 years from now. Just think about how you’d feel right now if you had put all your video content on Google Video which will not be operating for much longer.
- Good writing is no longer enough. Technology makes all media (print, images, sound, video/animation) fairly easy to create and distribute. Good journalism in the 21st century is multidisciplinary. More than that, journalists cannot get away with writing news that shows zero understanding of online culture, norms etc. Good journalistic instinct requires a great understanding of online culture.
- For libraries, the literacy divide and the digital divide are interconnected. You cannot promote basic literacy if you cannot promote the benefits of basic computing. They go hand-in-hand.
- Libraries cannot do this alone. Like the way libraries encourage parents to read to children, libraries ought to be promoting why sons, daughters and friends should be helping their parents/friends get an email account, set up RSS feeds, do conference calls with Skype, and navigate their way through Facebook’s privacy settings. Online communication is now a family and friends thing.
- Businesses, Governments and Non-profits need to think about the parameters through which they will encourage their staff to blog, engage social networks and the like. IBM’s social computing guidelines lead the way in my view, but each organization has different needs and concerns regarding how social media impacts productivity, privacy, marketing strategy, branding, and customer service (etc etc etc).
The bottom line is that the public both wants and deserves excellent journalism; they do not care what package the information comes in. If the ROI of doing print media means that we are going to have toilet bowl news in our face, then the world needs to re-think what print media means for us.