When I was a child, I was always reading (surprise, surprise, right?). Often, I would read books that were perhaps a little advanced for my age range in terms of the vocabulary. I’d lay in bed with my book and my most trusty sidekick: my dictionary. When I’d read a word I didn’t know, I wouldn’t skip over it. I wouldn’t ignore it. I would go into the dictionary and find out what it meant. This was how I, and many other kids, developed an adult vocabulary. When we came to something we didn’t understand, we learned what it meant on our own. I suppose I could have asked my mother or my father about the words I didn’t know, but using my dictionary taught me to be a self-reliant information seeker, and as a librarian, I’m grateful for that ability.
This is why I am dismayed that some of my colleagues seem to have given up this practice. In response to the question posed in BlogJunction’s post Am I Supposed to Know What a ‘Wiki’ Is? I say YES!!! I can understand reading the email I wrote to WebJunction members and not knowing what a wiki is. There is nothing wrong with not knowing. But, as librarians who must know how to search the Web, how hard is it to look it up? Doing a Google search for “what is a wiki” nets 10 sites on the first page alone that have useful definitions of what a wiki is. In the time it would take someone to send an email pointing out that they don’t know what a wiki is, they could easily change that situation themselves.
I can totally understand if people aren’t interested in, don’t like, or are not ready for wikis. I don’t take that as a personal affront or anything. And I can understand that plenty of people just aren’t exposed to wikis and blogs and RSS. There is nothing wrong with not knowing. It’s just the lack of curiosity and the assumption that we need to be spoon-fed our information that surprises me. We are librarians! We’re all about fulfilling information needs in our work. It should be so easy for us to do it for ourselves. Just today, my supervisor emailed me about Web Services. He had read about Web Services in an article, had no idea what it meant, and did some research to figure it out. Once he did his research, he emailed me to show me the articles he found and to ask what I thought about Web Services. At that moment, I felt excited and proud to work at a place with such intellectually curious people.
I’m starting to think that perhaps most of the library world isn’t ready for wikis yet. And that’s fine. Perhaps something like the ALA Chicago Wiki was a success because it had a very specific, concrete, and imminent purpose. The ALA Conference was two months away and people could see the benefit of contributing and using it. Perhaps the “just in time” wiki is all that works right now. But I’m happy to keep the Library Success Wiki up until the library world is really ready to do something with it. And I will continue to add my own success stories (I urge you all to do the same). I truly believe that wikis are the best means for creating a collectively developed repository of good ideas in the profession.
And if you are still curious about what a wiki is (a collaboratively-edited website which allows all users to edit, add to, and delete anyone else’s work), I have an article coming out next month on WebJunction that explains what a wiki is, how it can be used in libraries, and what practical things one needs to consider before developing a wiki at their library. I promise that it will be informative and designed for the novices and techies alike. I’ll post the link once it’s published.
I have found LibSuccess invaluable for collaborative information storage; please leave it up at least long enough for me to use it in my ILI presentation on Web Browser Extensions – it has all my links!
I added a small amount of info to the Web Services page on LibSuccess.
I think it can be challenging to get people excited about new technology, particularly since many new technologies we are exposed to are overcomplicated or poorly designed. Just think about television: used to be all you had to know was what size you wanted to buy. Now you may have to try to understand HD-ready vs HDTV, digital vs analogue, plasma vs LCD, DVI-HDCP, 480i, 720p, 1080i… it’s just ridiculous, it’s overwhelming.
People get burned so many times that when you say “here’s a technology you can actually use” they may no longer be able to muster any interest.
People have to see that it’s easy and that there are benefits. Even to get a wiki going… unless there are thousands of potential contributors, some of whom are highly motivated, and it is promoted well, it may go nowhere.
I’ve put lots of work into the ILI2005 wiki, which is fine with me since I needed the information myself anyway. It remains to be seen however, whether anyone else will actually add any info.
I sometimes wonder the same thing – but I am coming to the conclusion about half the time is that it is not lack of curiosity or interest even, but instead just priority and applicability. A large portion of the librarians I interact with are interested, but may read the definition of a wiki and with that basic understanding not really grasp how it could be applicable to their running their library more efficiently or provide a better service to their patrons. They see it as yet another task – not something that would necessarily help them.
So, I feel like we (we meaning the either self-anointed or foolish propeller heads among us) have to move beyond just talking about it to showing how we use it. The ALA Annual Conference wiki is a great example – concrete, solid, useful, and something that many people can grasp.
And as supposedly techy and open to change as I am I still thought the editing piece of the wiki scene was a little bit too 1992 web-like. That is why the wikiwyg thing intrigues me. Who was it that was just writing about how two technologies everyone seems to know are word processors and e-mail. Well, the wikiwyg thing breaks down that barrier and makes the wiki interface much more like a word processor in my opinion and generally I think that will also help. Keep banging that drum – it will take time, but it will spread.