By Meredith Farkas | April 2, 2007
One thing I have loved about the whole Library 2.0 movement is the push to stamp out the “but we’ve always done it this way” attitude. I am a strong believer in questioning the common wisdom. So often we do things because of tradition, not because it’s the best way to do it. I think it’s great that we’re pushing libraries to question everything and to frequently assess the effectiveness of their services in light of current patron needs.
While we are doing this more and more in libraries, one place I do not see this questioning going on enough is in library associations. In my rather ranty post last week, I asked people what the logic was behind state library associations compensating out-of-state speakers but not in-state speakers (in most cases, regardless of whether the talk was invited or not). And people keep saying “well, we’d go broke if we didn’t do things this way.” Ok, I get that, but I still don’t understand why an in-state person’s time is worth nothing and what sort of an incentive that is for quality in-state speakers? My state library association did pay me to speak, and if they didn’t, I would be more likely to speak at an out-of-state conference than my own because I feel that the amount of time I spend preparing and giving a talk should be worth something (unless I am planning on going to a conference already). Even if it’s a small amount of compensation (at least comped registration for the whole conference!), it’s something.
But it’s not just about compensation in state library associations. It’s also about ways to participate. The model in most state organizations is all about committees, and individual contributions outside of that structure are often not supported. How much innovation can happen in a committee setting? How quickly can change occur? Imagine how long it may have taken the ALA to get on-board with wikis if I hadn’t created the first two myself (the second with their seal of approval)? I think they probably would have moved in that direction eventually, but by the time they started creating their own, they had a nice little successful model to look to.
A few weeks ago, an e-mail showed up on the Vermont Libraries listserv about the VLA Newsletter. They mentioned that it was now available online in PDF format. What’s kind of annoying about that is that you still have to print it out to read it comfortably since it’s in a column format. Jessamyn stepped up and offered to volunteer her time to turn the PDF content into HTML and even to use something that would generate an RSS feed so people could subscribe. I was surprised to see that her offer was basically blown off. The response she got was that most people seem to prefer the print version and they probably won’t be able to make everyone happy with their choices. Gosh, if you offer the newsletter in multiple formats, I think you can make everyone happy, and that’s what I said in my response:
I think a newsletter is not just about telling members what is going on, but is also about attracting new members. And if that is the case, it may be wise to think about what formats might attract new, tech-savvy members who are accustomed to reading content online, and perhaps through an RSS reader.
A large number of state library associations are using blogs now to disseminate information. Just a few examples include California http://www.cla-net.org/weblog/mt/archives/cat_californialibrarynews.php, Wisconsin http://wlaweb.blogspot.com/, New Jersey http://blog.njla.org/, and New Hampshire http://www.nhlibrarians.org/. Also, many of the national ALA divisions have blogs now. It’s a great way for pushing timely news to interested individuals. Even if you didn’t want to use a blog to post timely news, you could still use it for your newsletter content. Reference and User Services Quarterly is published in print, in PDF format, and as a blog http://www.rusq.org/ with an RSS feed people can subscribe to. What’s really great is that they allow people to comment on the articles, which creates much more of a timely dialogue than a traditional journal (or newsletter). Obviously, you don’t need to leave comments open if that’s not what you want to do with the blog. You don’t even need to know HTML to copy and paste content into a blog and they are very easy to maintain (certainly easier than static HTML pages). And having a blog will automatically give you an RSS feed for your content. The beauty of having an RSS feed is that people can subscribe to your feed and will not have to remember to visit your site periodically to see if new content has been posted. People can also subscribe to RSS content via e-mail, so they will receive the content in their mailbox as soon as it is posted. This would give people multiple methods of receiving news content from the Vermont Library Association, and I think it would really position the organization as user-centered and tech-savvy (which may be a draw to some librarians who have chosen not to get involved in VLA).
Just my 2 cents (which is about all it’s worth). If I were on the committee and Jessamyn was offering to help with this, I would jump at the opportunity to benefit from her technology skills and her enthusiasm. I think you can, in fact, make everyone happy.
The response to my post and Jessamyn’s was that the person who is involved in creating the newsletter is busy and that she alone will not be able to make everyone happy. I get that and would never ask anything of this person. But the whole point was that Jessamyn was offering to donate her time to put the newsletter into a more online-readable format, so that the newsletter person would not need to do it. We were also told that we should propose to create a technology committee to investigate options, costs, alternatives, and then develop a plan. I understand that this is how things are done, but my gosh, all this for something so minor? All we were talking about was publishing the contents of the newsletter to a blog or a static HTML page. This isn’t some huge endeavor that requires months and months of planning; it’s something Jessamyn could probably accomplish in a day or so.
But this is the model for participation and it sadly does not encourage me to contribute. In spite of the fact that I am not a member of any committee, I have contributed to the ALA, and I have worked hard for the ALA. Maybe it doesn’t look as good on my resume to say that I created the first two ALA Wikis versus having served on committees, but I think I did some good. Maybe I’m just not a committee and meeting kind of person (not to say that there’s anything at all wrong with committees) and that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not willing to contribute. Unfortunately, Vermont is not not unique in it’s strict definition of how one can contribute to the organization. Maybe one day I’ll find my niche in a committee at the state or national level, but until then, change aversion in organizations will not stop me from contributing to the profession. It might stop me from contributing to the organization though.
Perhaps I’m unique in my attitude and state library associations will never have trouble finding people to serve without changing (or being more flexible in) their model for participation. But perhaps more and more young librarians do want to find new ways to contribute and I do believe that library organizations should question the way they do things in light of the changing needs and interests of their members (or potential members). We should be just as 2.0 in our organizations as we are in our libraries and I applaud the American Library Association for really making an effort to move in that direction (obviously things won’t change in a day, but I see things starting to change). Like Jessamyn, if any Vermont library organization wants my help with technology stuff, I’d be glad to contribute. Sadly, it looks like there probably won’t be an HTML version of the newsletter any time soon, and not for lack of interest or lack of volunteers.