I remember a few months ago, my friend Rochelle wrote a terrific post about the Second Life Library 2.0. She basically wrote about her first-time experiences in the Second Life realm and how confusing and off-putting it was for her. She voiced some criticisms of the Second Life Library project, which she made clear were her own opinions and the opinions of someone who was viewing it all for the first time. I love reading people’s initial impressions of things; it’s the most honest impressions you can get. Once you’ve done something a few times, you forget a lot of the things that initially made you like it or not like it. You’re just “in it.” You see it with new eyes; without any assumptions. Anyways, Rochelle was practically tarred and feathered by a few Second Life-ers. Responses ranged from hostility, to absolutely horror that someone would have the nerve to criticize something someone else has worked so hard on, to intimating that her impressions are not really valid since she hasn’t spend enough time in there, to making her feel like she should have to work to make the SLL better because she criticized it.
One of the more defensive commenters wrote this:
I think that bloggers should be careful before criticizing what other people are doing. Everyone has the right to be interested in what they are interested on. Let’s let it end there.
I didn’t read anything in her post saying that there was anything fundamentally wrong with what this gentleman was doing in Second Life. She was just writing up her own impressions. Here was an excerpt from my response:
I wish someone would come to our library here at Norwich and do the same thing. In fact, I want to hear all the criticisms — what they had trouble with, what they didn’t understand, what they don’t like. That’s how we learn and how we can improve our services. Because you want things to be intuitive to the first-time user and sometimes when you’re so close to something, you can’t see the little things that might be confusing.
Her discussion of Second Life seemed very balanced to me. She wasn’t saying “people shouldn’t bother with the Second Life Library.” She was saying “this is what I had trouble with and what I didn’t understand.” And what is wrong with that? Are we saying that someone can’t criticize or write their honest experiences with something until they’ve used it as much as you have?
What I didn’t say was that I was relieved that Rochelle had written it. I had gone into Second Life while doing research for my book and I really didn’t enjoy my experience in there. But everyone was raving so much about it and it was starting to feel very (I’m not sure if this is the right word) false to me. I’m not saying that people don’t genuinely enjoy Second Life or the Second Life Library 2.0 project; what I mean is that all rah rah and no criticism makes me feel that a lot of people aren’t saying what they really think. I think SLL 2.0 is a really fascinating project and it’s terrific that people are exploring how to provide library services in 3D virtual worlds. But when a certain blogger who had written about the Second Life Library in positive terms turned to me at a conference and said “do you ‘get’ Second Life?” (and then admitted that s/he didn’t either) I knew we were getting only one side of the story online. So bravo to Rochelle for having the guts to “keep it real.”
After reading the entire exchange (and taking part in it), I had started a post on the topic of criticism in the blogosphere, how much groupthink there is, and how critical doesn’t have to equal mean. Of course I didn’t have time to finish it and time passed and the topic didn’t seem as fresh anymore. But Rochelle just wrote a terrific post on politeness, how boring it is in the echo-chamber and how the best blogs are those that are written with one’s authentic (read: uncensored) voice and ideas.
I created the title of last week’s post (“It’s Not Just the OPAC that Sucks”) because I was feeling like I would bang my head against the wall if I saw one more person write about OPACs sucking. OK! We get it! Now what? It’s great to see people criticizing things and coming up with new ideas (and there were some terrific posts on the woeful state of the OPAC). But then the groupthink takes over and people just echo the same ideas over and over again, without adding anything new or productive. What’s the point of that? I don’t need to read the same exact thing on 50 blogs. Then there are people like Jennifer McCauley and Dan Chudnov who go beyond the echo chamber to add original (and contrary) thoughts to the mix. And while you may not necessarily agree with either of them, they get you looking at things from another angle.
I’ve redesigned my library’s Website and am going live with it this Thursday. A week ago, I contacted my colleagues to get feedback on the site, but heard back from almost no one, including my own supervisor. Two people responded with “good job’s” which was nice. The two people I actually got useful criticism from were the only two people I ever hear from when I ask for opinions. And while some of the criticisms were a bit harsh and challenged me to make a whole bunch of changes I hadn’t anticipated, I appreciated it. The site is now far better because of their input. But I would have liked to have gotten feedback from more people considering how important this is. I’d rather hear a hundred negative criticisms of my site than a sea of silence.
For those of you who blog, why do you do it? I can’t even honestly remember why I started blogging, but I know that I do it now to make people think and to spur dialogue. And to spur dialogue, you really have to speak your mind. Speaking your mind isn’t always the politic thing to do. Look, I criticized the ALA and less than a year later I was speaking at ALA Headquarters BECAUSE of it! Mary Ghikas told me how much she appreciates criticisms like the ones I’ve written about ALA because they are productive and are something people can learn from. I wrote another criticism of ALA while in talks with Leonard Kniffel to write for American Libraries. Like me, they’d rather hear something useful and constructive than a sea of silence. Regardless of what organizations I am involved with, I will always give my honest impressions of things. I will always be an independent agent. In some blogs, you can tell that people are being so careful. It shows. Their work isn’t as vibrant, thought-provoking or useful. I know I don’t always write posts that are thought-provoking, but it’s usually due to lack of time to write anything substantial than fear of being impolitic. A number of blogs I used to enjoy have become “careful.” Some of them I’ve reluctantly unsubscribed from. They remind me of a once fierce lion that’s been tamed and has lost everything that made him a lion other than the anatomy.
I’ve taken a beating for some of the things I’ve written and have gotten criticized for many of my projects. You take that risk when you do anything publicly online. But it’s always been worth it. It hurts when you spend days and days straight working on a wiki only to have people criticize it. But you know what? You get over it pretty quick. And, unless the critic’s just a troll looking for an excuse to be mean to someone, you learn from what they wrote or said. The sting of criticism isn’t that bad.
I love that something I wrote last week about user experience in libraries inspired this terrific post from Mark Linder. While we largely do agree on things, he didn’t just nod his head. He really made the topic his own and focused on user experience in bookstores and libraries from his perspective as a customer and budding cataloger. It was a terrific post and he didn’t need any of those “it’s not that I disagree with Meredith but” caveats. It’s great to see some dissent in the blogosphere as long as it doesn’t get personal or mean. I have always enjoyed Mark’s unique take on things; he brings a truly unique and useful perspective to the blogosphere.
Be nice, be critical, but most of all… be you. It’s definitely a good idea to censor yourself when you’re writing something you think is too personal or might hurt someone’s feelings (or could get you fired), but if you find yourself worrying about what someone might think of your impressions of something, please hit “Publish” as quick as you can. The blogosphere needs more authentic voices.
Everyone has the right to be interested in what they are interested on. Let’s let it end there.
Someone actually said that? Seriously? Anyone who says that deserves a swift kick in the nads.
Thanks for the kind words, Meredith.
I do worry sometimes how I come across due to a lifetime of experience with often being misunderstood. Of course, that’s a great reason to continue working on my communication skills, and NOT one to become “tame.”
As usual, even when you are commenting on previously discussed issues you have something interesting to add. Keep up the good work!
And good luck with the website (re)launch! That’s tough work, especially with little feedback….
Libloggers by and large seem to shy away from – or just plain run screaming in the opposite direction from – dissenting opinions. There are exceptions, of course, but most of us seem to take a lot of pride in playing nice, probably taking it a lot further than we should. It’s kind of funny, really, when you look at much of the rest of the internet where criticizing and argument is par for the course.
As for me, the only time I hesitate publishing something is when I remember my mother reads my blog 😉 I don’t publish a whole lot of dissenting opinions, but then I haven’t felt passionately inclined to since Library 2.0 first became a big topic. (Something I have given up on complaining about for my own sanity; no one’s been able to say anything that convinces me that the use of social technologies fundamentally alters the mission of librarianship. and I doubt they ever will.)
I would be cautious about donning the “will this hurt someone’s feelings” filter. too often. If what you are saying is critical delivered with a side of intentional snark or with comments that target the person, not the idea, then yeah…just go bitch to someone about it privately. Is it our job to accommodate the thin skins among us? This is the crux of what I was trying to say. We are all rightly proud of the work we do and share, but I think we need to toughen up and, as one of my colleagues likes to say, “put on our big girl/boy panties.” I’ve spent enough time being the sensitive, wounded one in this profession to know that it didn’t get me far, and only served to hurt my credibility. It all goes back to the discussion of radical trust. A fear of honest discourse indicates a serious lack of trust with our colleagues. I would hope that most of us can and do model appropriate levels of difficult discourse that would help people feel less threatened by it.
Actually, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who’s skeptical about Second Life. I just wrote a posting yesterday about predictions related to virtual reality, with some discussion about Second Life. I would also highly recommend Siva Vaidhyanathan’s MSNBC column from Thursday, which talks about the futility of predicting the future, and how some “grand visionaries” don’t express doubt about their forecasts. (In fact, it inspired me to write my own entry the same day.)
As far as my own motivation for writing blogs, I actually wrote yet another entry on the same topic last week. It’s good to express one’s opinion, and maybe even find that you’re not alone with your concerns.
(Sorry for the three links to my own postings. They just seemed relevant to this posting, and I thought it would be easier than rewriting what I have already written.)
Word. I’m starting to get concerned about the dark side of Library 2.0–basically that in our rush to make everything open access and participatory and high-tech, we are alienating a very important (and under-served) part of our patron base. I’ve been procrastinating on posting on this theme, partly because I was concerned about it being taken as a homage to the bad old luddite days (BTW, did those days ever REALLY exist?). I think I’ll follow your lead and see if I can go after a few sacred cows myself.
As to why I blog? Partly to share advice and resources on time management and such, partly to voice my opinions on current events in LIS, but ultimately because I like to think I have something to say worth reading. The day I run out of unique things to day is the day I should shut down my blog.
I’m confused – are you going to post what you’re thinking, especially if it’s critical, and be authentic, or are you going to be quiet because a couple of other people already said what you were going to say? What led you to decide it was okay to criticize library interiors – and OPACs – when there have been countless print articles, print columns, conference sessions, and blog posts about these topics before you? How on earth would you draw the line for when it’s acceptable for you to add your opinion and when it isn’t?
I agree with Karen Schneider that “me, too” does have value, especially when you’re trying to expose a trend or spur action. Otherwise, we would all have agreed on OPAC suckiness years ago thanks to folks like Roy Tennant and Andrew Pace. Lipstick would no longer be suitable for a pig.
There’s nothing wrong with groupthink. The opposite view is that so many folks are agreeing on something and trying to move forward, and surely this can be viewed as a positive instead of a negative. In my world, I can often use that as a reason for examining something locally. Groupthink says the reference interview is valuable and is unique to librarians (as opposed to Google). Groupthink says that libraries can help bridge the digital divide. Groupthink says libraries need better funding and technology. If you don’t want to post about those things, fine, but I don’t understand how you can urge folks to be authentic and speak their minds but then limit what they want to say on those topics. If I believe strongly enough in something to do a post that says, “Right on,” without adding a critique, an action, or some other angle new to you, is it really your call to tell me I’m now part of the echo chamber?
Maybe you started blogging to add your voice, whether it fell into groupthink on a topic or not? Leading is all well and good, but I find it difficult to fault others for wanting to agree about something. For myself, that’s often how I start formulating my responses, next steps, critiques, etc., and if I had to censor myself or think through the whole process first, I wouldn’t get anywhere.
I also think time is an issue for everyone, so cutting folks some slack on not having the be-all-end-all answer or new angle for every topic would be generous. One person’s “careful” is another person’s approach. Maybe your blogger started out blogging for one reason but it has since morphed into something else (much like you say your own efforts have done). Again, if that’s the place this person is in now, I think it’s up to you to unsubscribe, not shame the blogger into a style that doesn’t work for him anymore, regardless of the reason.
You seem all over the map with this post. I’d like to understand the points you’re trying to make but don’t. Maybe you want to break it out into individual themes and address each one?
I could have sworn I made the first comment early this morning…. Anyway. Thanks for the kind words, Meredith, and I am very pleased that you are able to take me in the spirit intended. Not everyone manages to do so.
Keep up the thoughtful and engaging work.
I remember going to a presentation on Second Life that was demonstrating all the different aspects of gaming and I was weirded out by a couple of things.
For instance, a person asked about the “digital divide” and the presenter understood that to mean “the divide between young and old.” Her response was a fairly flippant “everyone should just use SL and things will be better.”
Of course, to me “digital divide” meant things like lack of money [or desire] to afford a great graphics card, or living in an area with no broadband which would make SL an impossibility. And this is a big deal. You have to face the reality that making a “Second Life” library means making a library that targets people with 1) lots of computer access 2) lots of time and [probably] 3) a good amount of disposable income.
That’s not the average visitor to the libraries I see.
Good post Meredith.
Jenny, you sound deeply offended by this post. Do you really think that I have the power to limit what people write about? I was only encouraging people to write things from their heart and to say what they think; and not to be silenced because a certain topic is a \”sacred cow.\”
It\’s scary to hear someone saying that there\’s nothing wrong with groupthink. Group think is what made all but 13 members of the House vote for DOPA. Groupthink often silences people because they feel that they must be wrong for feeling differently about an issue. That\’s how I felt with a lot of what people were writing about Library 2.0 last year (that \”L2 opponents\” were confused and resistant to change because we didn\’t agree with the side of right) and I\’ve spoken to a lot of folks who felt the same way. Groupthink is what shames people — being told that you must just not \”get it\” or must be wrong if you don\’t agree is a nice way of making people feel badly for their views. Maybe you\’ve always been on the group side of groupthink, but imagine if you didn\’t agree with what everyone else thought and felt like you\’d be shouted down for saying what you think. If groupthink stifles dissent, then there is something wrong with it. There is a lot to be learned to the other side(s) of an issue. Replace L2 with Jesus or Republicanism and maybe you\’ll see what I\’m talking about.
I never said that people shouldn\’t write about the same topics. Look at the examples of Jennifer McCauley. She agrees that the OPAC sucks and she writes about it, but she also talks about her nuanced views on the issue and her experiences at her library. She puts her own spin on it. Just like the example of Mark Linder. I never ever suggested that only one person can write about a certain topic or that people can\’t sometimes say \”hey! right on! that\’s cool what ___ wrote.\” But it\’s a blog post is so much more interesting and vital when a person puts some of themselves into it; when they write about their own place or work or a offer personal anecdote or a unique insight.
I guess I\’m wondering why you\’re so offended by this when all I\’m trying to say is that people should just not be afraid of writing what they think and should not censor themselves. Who did I shame, exactly?
I’m confused. Blogospherian groupthink (such an Orwellian word) can either be where people begin talking about the same thing and agreeing to agree (such as on OPAC suckiness) OR groupthink can be where people all walk out of the front door of their house and begin marching down the street to the nearest Nazi party rally simply because they don’t want to be perceived as being ‘against’ the revolution. I prefer to think that the groupthink you speak of is the former and not the latter.
Groupthink that has people freely coming to the same conclusions and then writing about their opinions is not a bad thing. It simply makes the conversation louder. I think there are many people out in libraryland who fear that loud conversation, especially with regards to some of the 2.0 discussions. Some people are very set in their ways and do not like to have the apple cart upset, so to speak. That’s too bad. One thing I hope we can all learn is to simply listen to what others are saying and not get too defensive — there’s nothing worse than an old curmudgeon who refuses to listen to ideas simply because he thinks he’s seen and heard it all. Once you reach that stage in your career — when all new ideas are neither new nor important — then it’s time to retire.
Wah! I try and update a comment and it goes and inserts all those quote escapes. Super lame! I just wanted to make it clear that I was responding to Jenny and wasn’t saying that to Ryan (whose comment was just above mine).
“I think there are many people out in libraryland who fear that loud conversation, especially with regards to some of the 2.0 discussions. Some people are very set in their ways and do not like to have the apple cart upset, so to speak. That’s too bad.”
Do you really think that’s why some people in the blogosphere didn’t like Library 2.0? Because they were afraid or change averse or because it was loud? Do you think those were my objections?
What I don’t like about groupthink is that people usually characterize those who don’t agree with them as scared, confused, change-averse or just plain wrong. Isn’t that what you’re doing by simplifying the reasons why some people don’t like Library 2.0? I’d love to see one post or comment that shows that someone against library 2.0 is change averse.
While blogospherian groupthink is not even in the same league as Nazi Germany (hey, you started the Godwin thing), it is similar only in that it has the effect of marginalizing those who disagree.
Well, this just sucks, er, I mean OPACs!
Dammit, OPACs even suck as profanity. It stackin’ shelves big time! Circ!
Anyway, perhaps I was being polite as well, since I disagree with Meredith on the groupthink thing. I agree with Jenny to some degree. Whether intended or not, suggesting someone is “not being themselves” or “holding back” is fairly insulting, because it implies that someone is insincere, or worse, sycophantic and therefore manipulative.
And to go along with it Michael Casey just got really close to invoking Godwin’s Law.
The so-called “groupthink” code and the “be yourself” codes are equally valid and equally dangerous. I don’t want a long tirade comment, but Jane Jacob’s Systems of Survival does an excellent job of explaining how “Groupthink” (ie. power by consensus building aka. the “Guardian” code) and “Selfthink” (ie. power by being honest, straight-shooting, action-oriented and revelling in diversity aka the “business” code) interact.
I may blog a description, but I’m swamped these days.
Well, I’m certainly sorry if it sounded like I was suggesting that specific people were not being themselves. This post was mainly a response to someone I know who feels that she can’t post what she really thinks about things because she’s gotten ‘beaten up’ in the past over it. And I just wanted to encourage people to not feel afraid to post what they think because others disagree with them and to realize that the most interesting blogs are those that are personal and honest and unique. And if I can get one person (http://alttablib.wordpress.com/2007/01/09/second-life/) to feel more comfortable saying what they think, then I’m a happy camper. But I definitely wouldn’t want people to feel bad about what they post and I didn’t direct this at any one person in particular.
Meredith, I’m not sure why you think I’m offended by your post, because I’m not in the slightest. I’m just confused because on the one hand, you say “be authentic and blog what you’re feeling,” but on the other hand you say, “…people just echo the same ideas over and over again, without adding anything new or productive.” I’m questioning what seems to be your assumption that the only valid blog posts are those that say something new or productive. That seems like a contradiction to me.
I also think we have differing views on what “groupthink” is. I’m curious to know what you call the common assumption/agreement within the profession for things like information literacy, supporting distance learners, accessibility, and the like. (And I’m not implying that there is uniform agreement on these issues, just that I would say there is a majority opinion that is well expressed in multiple places with a lot of “me, too” sentiments.) Replace your term with “groupthink” and I think we actually agree.
I’m trying to figure out where we disagree, because I think it’s okay for a blogger to say “me, too” without having to add something new, and based on your statements in this post, you don’t seem to think that’s okay. Or maybe you do think it’s okay but you value the addition of new ideas or angles more, but you didn’t word it that way, which is why I suggested maybe you want to break apart some of these themes and address them separately.
Maybe you didn’t explicitly say that only one person can write on a topic, but sentiments such as “people just echo the same ideas over and over again. OK! We get it!” don’t leave much room for the 3rd, 4th, 5th person, and could even be construed as discouraging bloggers who might be thinking out loud and not reading the same blogs you do and don’t know they are the nth person to say this. Maybe she only saw Karen’s post that OPACs suck and doesn’t realize many others have agreed. Or maybe she does, and that should be okay. Doesn’t float your boat? Fine, but why shame someone into wondering if it’s okay to agree about something? Personally, I think that’s just as counter-productive as suppressing dissenting voices.
I’m not sure who you shamed because you didn’t name them, but the statement, “I don’t need to read the same exact thing on 50 blogs,” sure made me wonder which 50 bloggers you were chastising for blogging their thoughts.
I think Godwin would agree that I was not comparing your line of reasoning to the Nazis but that, instead, I was attempting to understand your working definition of groupthink. When you state “Replace L2 with Jesus or Republicanism and maybe you\’ll see what I\’m talking about” I cannot help but wonder into what camp you have placed Jesus and Republicans. I also begin to wonder just how extreme you perceive groupthink to be. And, since it appears that many of us biblioblogospherians have been accused of groupthink, well… it worries me. I’ll be the first to admit that I do not necessarily wish to belong to any group that would have me as a member, but painting so many of us with the groupthink label is, I fear, gross exaggeration.
When I mentioned Jesus and Republicans (which are admittedly bad analogies but I’ve had a really long day), I meant more the religious right who who think that people who don’t believe that there can be other acceptable views on religion (who believe that everyone else is just wrong/misguided/going to hell). And by Republicans, I was thinking primarily of the whole post-9/11 anyone who questions what we believe is unpatriotic; the “you’re either with us or your against us” black/white view.
Jenny and Michael, I always hear you talking about “Library 2.0 opponents” in similar ways (to each other), and I’m wondering if you think you’re being entirely fair to the people who disagreed with you. I know I felt pretty awful last year when I kept hearing that people who disagreed with you (like me) were afraid of change or just didn’t get it. Is it really that I don’t get it or that I understand it as well as you do but have a different (and just as valid) opinion?
There are a lot of different degrees of groupthink. One great example is the people who freak out when someone dares to write something questioning the concept of information literacy. I believe that information literacy instruction is important, but I learn a lot from people who question it. A lot of people will freak out that someone dared to criticize something so obviously wonderful. If people with divergent opinions are made to feel marginalized (or they feel like they can’t post their true opinions for fear of being pummeled online), then I think groupthink is at play. It’s not all bad, but it’s important that we make sure we don’t create an environment where we make people feel bad for expressing an opinion that differs from ours.
I think I’ve had a negative reaction to seeing so much boosterism for groupthink because of my assumptions about what groupthink is. Checking Wikipedia (good librarian that I am), I find that groupthink is a derogotory term. From Irving Janis, the guy who coined the term:
“A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”
Get thee behind me, Groupthink!
Hmmm…. sounds a bit like what I’ve been saying. 🙂
And also from that same Wikipedia entry:
“Irving Janis devised eight symptoms that are indicative of groupthink (197).
1. A feeling of invulnerability creates excessive optimism and encourages risk taking.
2. Discounting warnings that might challenge assumptions.
3. An unquestioned belief in the group’s morality, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
4. Stereotyped views of enemy leaders.
5. Pressure to conform against members of the group who disagree.
6. Shutting down of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
7. An illusion of unanimity with regards to going along with the group.
8. Mindguards- self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting opinions.”
The pressure to conform and shutting down of ideas that deviate from group consensus sound about like what I was talking about.
Why are librarians always so literal?
If you want to give people saying “me too” a bad connotation, “Groupthink” is the word you will use. If you want to give “Groupthink” a more positive connotation, you might say something like “consensus-building,” “team oriented,” “strategic,” “to be on the same page,” “to have the same values” and the like.
Either way, “Groupthink” is the word that Meredith coined for people she believes to be in the library 2.0 [et. al.] “me too” camp, and as Michael Casey mentioned, it was a rhetorical exaggeration. It is a long standing rhetorical defence to “take ownership” of a derogatory term and give it a more positive spin, so to deflate it.
That said, I personally don’t see myself as a “me too”-er in the library world. I’m just saying that “groupthink” (as understood in a “me too” kind of context) has its purpose in the world, and while a person may not want to participate in this sort of activity, it is unlikely that we would be able to survive in the world without at least a few “groupthinkers.”
Ryan–I’m not a literalist. It’s an unfortunate side effect of too many english classes and of having a thing about words. When I was in 4th grade, I asked for and got the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, which I proceeded to spend the day reading. I can live with consensus-building and do see the value of that. I understand the need to create critical mass, but I stand by my root contention is that we need to be more honest with each other and develop thicker skins.
I’m not sure that I see the same “groupthink” that you’re talking about here — I’ve always thought about these positive discussions across multiple blogs as more as a brainstorming session, where if there is some concurrence then it can lead to refinement/expansion of a good idea. Without the “OPACs suck” discussions, would we see projects like WPopac or Endeca? The more discussion, the more likely we’ll hit a critical mass where people create positive responses, and the more likely people (who don’t necessarily all read the same blogs) will run across a conversation.
Taking the L2 example, there’s certainly plenty of disagreement across all sorts of blogs, and its main proponents take these seriously. Jenny and Michael and others have written lengthy responses to your various posts and comments on the subject, and nowhere do I see them not taking your points seriously — nor do I see speech being stifled. I think a “will this hurt someone’s feelings” filter is much less useful than “am I taking the other person’s words and viewpoints seriously” filter. Some of the comments to Rochelle’s SLL post got ugly (and unproductive) because someone decided to play the flamewar game instead of taking her experiences seriously, and I think that the positive comments and suggestions she did receive got lost.
Ryan, you are mischaracterizing what I said. I never said I thought that everyone who believes in Library 2.0 engages in group think. It’s kind of like being a Christian. You can be a Christian without thinking that everyone who doesn’t believe in the same things you do are wrong/going to hell/going to be wiped out soon by a plague. It’s the fundamentalism that stifles conversation and diverse opinions.
You can be a me too-er without engaging in groupthink. It’s when you say “well people who don’t believe what I do are scared/confused/stupid/bad” that you know that you’re engaging in group think. Lots of people who were big Library 2.0 fans were willing to engage in debate without falsely characterizing those who didn’t agree with them.
Groupthink is all about stifling divergent opinions. I definitely do not believe that most people engage in this. It’s like what I said about information literacy. I’m a me too-er when it comes to information literacy, but I don’t freak out and think someone is horrible or crazy when they criticize it. I just remember a couple of years ago the fury exhibited over some academic who questioned information literacy. Yikes!
There can be widespread support for an idea without people characterizing anyone who doesn’t agree with them as just plain wrong, scared of change, or not understanding what’s right. There are a lot of ideas in the library profession that have widespread support but where I haven’t seen groupthink exhibited.
“Jenny and Michael, I always hear you talking about ‘Library 2.0 opponents’ in similar ways (to each other), and I’m wondering if you think you’re being entirely fair to the people who disagreed with you. I know I felt pretty awful last year when I kept hearing that people who disagreed with you (like me) were afraid of change or just didn’t get it. Is it really that I don’t get it or that I understand it as well as you do but have a different (and just as valid) opinion?”
Your question just confuses me further and is exactly why I say you’re trying to defend contradictory positions. You end your post with the encouraging, “…if you find yourself worrying about what someone might think of your impressions of something, please hit ‘Publish’ as quick as you can. The blogosphere needs more authentic voices.” But then you cry foul and admonish me for “being me” and putting my authentic voice out there.
I thought we (the biblioblogosphere) had a good, honest discussion a year ago in which some things (both good and bad, supportive and critical) were said that might not otherwise have been said.
Disagree, unsubscribe, post your response, comment, whatever, but this is where I feel like you’re contradicting yourself. If you want to discuss the content of my remarks from last year, great, but that’s even more separate from your original post. You’re encouraging dissenting voices and then using something I said a year ago to imply I shouldn’t have said it because it made you feel awful. You did the right thing a year ago by blogging your own dissenting thoughts. Throwing that question out in the middle of this thread undermines that position (which I *think* was the original point of this post of yours).
“You can be a me too-er without engaging in groupthink. It’s when you say ‘well people who don’t believe what I do are scared/confused/stupid/bad’ that you know that you’re engaging in group think. Lots of people who were big Library 2.0 fans were willing to engage in debate without falsely characterizing those who didn’t agree with them.
Groupthink is all about stifling divergent opinions. I definitely do not believe that most people engage in this.”
A big part of my confusion is that your clarifications are about previous L2 discussions, but what we’re reacting to is your linking “me, too” comments about OPAC suckiness to groupthink. Your original statement was:
“I created the title of last week’s post (”It’s Not Just the OPAC that Sucks”) because I was feeling like I would bang my head against the wall if I saw one more person write about OPACs sucking. OK! We get it! Now what? It’s great to see people criticizing things and coming up with new ideas (and there were some terrific posts on the woeful state of the OPAC). But then the groupthink takes over and people just echo the same ideas over and over again, without adding anything new or productive. What’s the point of that?”
You were the one that linked the term “groupthink” with this topic. Now it seems like you didn’t really mean *that* term, but your original statement that is the basis for these comments is that me-tooers were falling into groupthink. How were these bloggers saying, “Yes, the OPAC does indeed suck!” stifle divergent opinions?
More importantly, linking me-too to groupthink contradicted your encouragement to be authentic and blog what you’re feeling.
I posted this at Tinfoil+Raccoon:
In response to the lively, honest discussion happening at Information Wants to Be Free about “groupthink” and me-tooism, I’m going to offer an amendment to my politeness post. In my post, I wrote
There are a lot of people blogging about library issues, and I’ve tried to resist the pull of me-tooism.
Here’s my amended statement: There are a lot of people blogging about library issues, and I’ve tried to resist the pull of uncritical me-tooism.
To me, critical doesn’t have to mean just pointing out problems. That’s part of it. But you can be critical by pointing out the strong points of an idea. Why are you endorsing something? Sharing that is just as important as why you have problems with an idea or project. I think that uncritical me-tooism leads to groupthink. That’s what I object to.
I like rochelle’s idea of “uncritical me-tooism”. The idea that being “critical doesn’t have to mean just pointing out problems” can be a difficult concept to grab and execute sometimes. It takes most beginning English classes I visit a while to get their heads around the idea that literary “criticism” doesn’t necessarily mean saying that a poem sucks.
I don’t have time to read a huge number of blogs but I really haven’t noticed anything near the level of uncritical me-tooism that exists in other forums like boards or email lists (of all kinds, not just library related)where the literal “me too” post happens waaaay too often. There are varying degrees of argumentative skills out there, but I think that’s cool. Lots of folks use their blogs as a tool for practicing and building their writing and rhetorical talents. I’m nowhere near as good a writer as any of the people commenting on this post but dabbling in blogging (which is all I really do) has helped me improve somewhat in those areas. This is why it really doesn’t bother me as a reader (or skimmer) to see a ton of posts basically saying the same thing about the same topic.
Having anointed myself The Pragmatic Librarian, I feel duty-bound to call things as I see them, which may occasionally make me sound unpragmatic. If a technology sounds like a useful tool for librarianship, I will say so based my personal and professional experience. On the other hand, if you have read my blog, you will know that I tend to express skepticism about the notion that technology will be the savior of librarianship… and society, for that matter. (I can’t help it. I’m a Generation X’er, so skepticism is in my makeup.)
I know that serious “technophiles” don’t literally believe in technology-as-savior, but that’s the impression one can get from the zeal possessed by some of them. As I mention in my comment from yesterday, Siva Vaidhyanathan recently wrote a column on how visionaries rarely express doubt about their forecasts. Such seemingly unshakable faith in technology can send the wrong message to those who have doubts. Of course, this goes both ways, and I can see how some technophiles might see me as a Luddite that’s holding back the profession.
Based on a negative personal experience, I sense that those who express skepticism about technological advances can occasionally be excluded from the discourse. I remember posting a comment a while ago that disagreed with something written on someone’s blog. When I tried posting another comment the following day, I got some script message saying that I was not allowed to post. It may have been a fluke, but I decided not to waste my time writing comments for a blog if I may have been banned from it. As they say, “Once bitten, twice shy.”
In case you’re wondering, the comment was written in my usual manner under my own name (first name, anyway): relatively polite and contemplative, with a dash of pithiness. As for myself, I do not edit comments to my blog. Too much power, and only a few people bother with comments on my obscure blog.
Going into pop psychology, here’s my theory on how some technophiles come across as zealots. Some of them were beaten down by those who went beyond skepticism and hated technology. Now that those people have likely retired, those of us who express healthy skepticism about technology probably remind technophiles of the bad old days. In defense, they treat healthy skepticism in a manner similar to that meted out to them many years ago. (Can any technophiles speak to this? I’d really like to know.)
In any case, we need to move beyond entrenchment and engage in dialogue. Consensus is a great thing, but it needs to be tempered with dissenting voices who intelligently (rather than willfully and maliciously) pose questions about grand visions for our future. Otherwise, we fall victim to a “Decider” mindset, which could endanger the profession.
I do hope that technophiles can see the skepticism that I (and others) express as constructive and conducive to dialogue. Treat skeptics in the profession the same way you would treat regular library patrons: as students whom you would like to teach, rather than enemies in a professional civil war. I can’t promise that I won’t occasionally lapse into curmudgeonly mumblings, but I can change my mind if someone gives me some good arguments. Taking me behind the toolshed in the process won’t help, however, as it will only make me more skeptical.
In short, we should consider new technologies if they will help librarians and their patrons. However, we also need to temper such proclamations of good news by considering the ramifications of those technological advances.
The technophobes have retired? News to me, as something of a systems librarian.
(In response to Dorothea)
We probably have differing definitions of “technophobe.” In my posting, I was thinking of those who believed many years ago that libraries shouldn’t have computers at all. I just hope this isn’t the case in your library.
Even the most “techno-curmudgeonly” library staff I know work with computers in some way. At the very least, they use Microsoft programs, find things online, and check e-mail. Naturally, they might not feel too excited about (or comfortable with) the changes happening around them. That’s where serious technophiles need to figure out a way to communicate with them. After all, they might not be going away anytime soon, and it does little good to alienate them by thinking they’re “too old” or “just don’t get it.” (I’m only 34, and those phrases still make me bristle.)
Just recently, my wife and I persuaded my 76-year-old father to get DSL and a webcam. If someone who’s retired and has no incentive to “keep up” can do it, surely someone who wants to stay in their job might also have an incentive. It could be as simple as figuring out what they like, and developing a technology lesson surrounding it. Very basic pedagogy, actually.
For more about Dad’s technology lesson, go here and here.
I’m 23. I work in a library, but do not consider myself to be a librarian. As a “digital native,” I’m supposed to be really into all this stuff–the social internet. I’m not. For the most part, I think it’s stupid. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around classes and libraries in an online world such as Second Life. I played around with it two years ago when I was an undergrad. It was a silly pursuit then. Back then, the only people in Second Life were computer nerds and sexual perverts (predominantly furries). Somehow, I doubt very much has changed, but it’s pretty apparent SL has grown a few heads since then. Even still, it’s embarrassing to be associated with people that take this Library 2.0 stuff seriously. Most of the applications are useless fads that have no use in an academic context. In my opinion, since it seems most librarians are middle aged, it seems like they’re collectively having a midlife crisis.
And I’m posting this anonymously because I’d probably otherwise get fired. But hey, what I wrote needed to be said.
Jenny, you win! I was stupid to tell people to not feel afraid to write posts that are critical of sacred cows and then tell you how some of your comments last year made me feel. I don’t want to argue about this anymore. Yes, you’re absolutely right that I was not 100% clear in what I wrote. And if I “shamed” anyone I’m sorry. You’d think that it would be enough for you when I explained that I did not mean that everyone saying “me too” is exhibiting groupthink and that I meant to empower people to feel comfortable criticizing “sacred cows” not to make people feel ashamed of what they did write. You’d also think that the fact that you know me would also make you realize that I did not have harmful intentions.
I guess what I find so frustrating in this is not that you disagreed with me, but the way you did. Whether you know it or not your comments come off as angry. And you can say it’s just me, but others have noticed it too. As someone wrote to me via e-mail today “does Jenny Levine get a gold star from someone every time she successfully wears out her interlocutor enough that she can declare ‘victory?'” And I would have expected to get comments like that from someone who doesn’t know me. But I would hope that the people I’m friendly with would give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I meant no malice in what I wrote. You can debate someone in a nice way. You can respectfully disagree with them or ask for clarification in a way that doesn’t make clear you’ve already decided that they meant harm in what they were writing. I’m shocked that you’d think I’d want to make people feel badly, when my intent was just the opposite.
So this is the kinder, gentler ALA, is it? Interesting.
Meredith, I’m sorry that my comments made you feel that way. I thought the point of your post was that we could have a conversation in which we disagreed. I never attacked you personally, I just said I didn’t understand your points and why, asking for explanations and then responding.
I didn’t take the conversation outside of the topic, and I responded to specific things you said. You were the one that used words like offended and awful. I was genuinely trying to have a discussion about this, but for me personally, this proves the opposite of what you said (that you *should* write what you are thinking and engage with someone you disagree with). I’d say I won’t make that mistake again, but I believe I can still engage others in that way and have successfully done so on many other blogs. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings and made you feel awful – that was certainly never my intent.
Quoting email comments anonymously is a low blow. Rest assured I could do the same thing but choose not to.
Dorothea, I’d call that a low blow if I thought you were deliberately trying to be mean and completely disprove Meredith’s original point. However, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and just note that as is true for you, Meredith, and every other personal blogger (which is how I signed my comments), my views, comments, “me-toos,” disagreements, and opinions are completely my own and don’t reflect those of my employer. I have had a disclaimer on my site noting that for months, but this is a good heads-up that some folks will misconstrue comments I sign personally on other sites as coming from my employer, so I will add a note external comments to that disclaimer.
Guess I’ll go back to “me-too” posts and comments and take my chances boring people with a lack of opinion or disagreement.
Anomymous, you said:
It’s funny how you see the “midlifers” as being the proponents of library 2.0 when claims are often made that this is all for the NextGen folks. There may be a point here, or at least a caveat. It wouldn’t be the first time that a group of people decided what another group wants and built ideology around it.
On the other hand, I think it is essential that librarians take Library 2.0 seriously — even if all of the applications are useless fads. If there is any point to be made about Library 2.0 it is that the “techies” can’t know it all anymore. We know we will implement the wrong technologies if all of the technology decisions are left to our own devices. At the same time, we also know that there are a great many possibilities for Web 2.0 applications and we won’t know if they are useless fads unless we try them out. Further, we also know that the success of a service will always be proportional to the level of enthusiasm staff have for the offering. Even a fad technology can bring great things to a service if staff get behind it.
Meredith, thank you for this post.
Seen from the other side of the ocean, the american biblioblogosphere looks sometimes to be just a conflict between “library 2.0 people” vs “conservative people”, and worring about who shouts the loudder.
But some blogs go further, and that makes them more readworthy. 😉
>It’s funny how you see the “midlifers” as being the proponents of library 2.0 when claims are often made that this is all for the NextGen folks.
I think that, given the demographics of our profession, these are often the same people. I.e., 23-year-old anonymous probably thinks of a mid-30s guy like me as “middle aged,” while some of my older colleagues think of me as NextGen.
For my part, I think playing around with the nifty new technology can be very valuable, as its hard to know in advance what will be useful and what won’t. The problem comes when people make it sound like every new AJAX-enhanced website is the key to nirvana, or that if you aren’t doing *everything* at your library you are a hopeless dinosaur.
(In response to Anonymous, and to Steve further down)
To Anonymous, I find your comments quite interesting. I have wondered if younger people (those from “Generation Y”) actually expect libraries to somehow integrate the latest technologies into their libraries just because they’re available, or if their expectations don’t differ much from more “mainstream” perceptions of libraries. I suppose people have their own beliefs based on experience and what they have read, but I think the reality is much more complicated than we can imagine (especially if a number of Generation Y’ers actually share your perceptions). Have you spoken with your friends about their expectations about libraries? If so, I think many of us would be interested in hearing them.
On a personal note, I can understand your strong feelings of skepticism towards trends you’re “supposed to be really into.” All my life, I have hated it when others have more or less told me what I should like due to my age, whether it be peers or corporate entities.
To Steve, I do agree that we should be keeping our eyes out for new technologies that we might use in librarianship. Unfortunately, many libraries probably don’t have the resources (the usual, time and money…) to give employees an opportunity to test these new technologies. I suppose that librarians could do so on their own time, but a sense of professional obligation could kill the potential for a sense of play (which is why younger people are supposed to like new technologies).
Also, considering librarians’ salaries, there isn’t enough disposable income to take something home and test it properly. I suppose you could keep taking stuff back, but that might stop if you’re in a database that tracks “serial returners.” I remember seeing something about it on CNN just before the holidays. In fact, here’s a story on the subject. Besides, I’d hate to spend a lot of valuable time standing at returns desks.
Anyway, back to Steve… I also agree about the “key to nirvana” outlook. I’ve already said as much in my own comments, but such proclamations add even more confusion to a profession already trying to figure out how to handle the proliferation of information and new technologies.
Yes, Jenny, it was a low blow. I acknowledge that.
It is, however, disingenuous to presume that you can disentangle yourself that completely from your organization, especially when you have been hired to provide “vision and leadership” (and that is straight from your job description as you published it).
Sure, your opinions on policy may not reflect on ALA’s; we all understand that. Your tone in public, however, does, and I find the tone you have taken toward Meredith in this comment thread unnecessarily defensive and combative. This is not the first time I have noticed that tendency in your contributions to comment threads on other blogs; it makes me (for one) extremely hesitant to engage with you on any matter.
I don’t matter, I know; I’m not an ALA member, and my own professional interests diverge quite a bit from those under your purview. I do not, however, think I am unique in my reaction to your blogosphere participation, and I caution you — as someone who wants to see ALA move forward in this realm — that you may be more effective if you re-evaluate and temper your approach.
Jason sez “Unfortunately, many libraries probably don’t have the resources (the usual, time and money…) to give employees an opportunity to test these new technologies.”
True enough, though most web-based stuff is free, or has some degree of free access. And I have always been lucky enough to work in libraries where it is understood that professionals need some time to “play” with new ideas and approaches, technological or otherwise; I suppose many are not so fortunate.
And Dorothea says to Jenny Levine “I do not, however, think I am unique in my reaction to your blogosphere participation”
Um, no. Not unique.
Well, to clarify on a “midlifer,” I am generally referring to anyone 40 or 45 and above, even those who are technically older than the “midlife” range. I suppose “baby boomer” would have been a more appropriate phrase considering many of those people that are supremely into this sort of integration of social technology into the library are of that age.
I work in an academic library, so I can only really comment from that perspective. Most of the patrons are graduate and undergraduate students, and I’m of that age range. Not only do I work in the library, I use its resources for research purposes as I take classes on the side. In that respect, I am unique among the library faculty and staff in that I’m also a patron. Therefore I use the resources differently than the library employees would.
And to address your question, Jason, I do feel that the higher-ups in the library staff perceive that my generation wants information in a different manner than we actually do. Ease of searchability is a big deal, but I don’t want the library to provide me content or contact me over myspace or facebook, which is what certain people think ought to be done. Just because a particular library created a myspace page that has a lot of friends on it doesn’t mean it’s not silly or unprofessional. It’s just one more “friend” someone can add to their list, because, let’s face it, a lot of people treat the social internet as a popularity contest. I think college students hate the fact that high schools are on facebook now and think even less of there being figures of adult authority on it as well. The dissemination of information through this medium, including Second Life, has a very limited appeal to would-be patrons of an academic library. While some people might find it interesting for a little while, I think most people would reject it outright. To me, it seems like something that should be left as a hobby, because I see it having no role in the education system in the future. God help me if I’m wrong, because I wouldn’t want to live in a future where all of our classes and libraries are in persistent online worlds. It’s just dehumanizing. Trust me, many of us in the “Y Generation” still like books (or at least printed material) because it’s annoying reading three hundred pages of text on a computer monitor. When I was doing research last semester, I *printed* all of the JSTOR articles I found. And I know I’m not alone in my perspective among students my age.
(In response to Steve’s response to me)
It is fortunate that we can get some web-based stuff for free. Although that reduces the problems posed by lack of funding, it still does not alleviate lack of time. Whether one wants to play with the offerings of free online resources, or with tools that cost some money, it’s ultimately up to the powers-that-be in libraries to develop cultures where staff “play” is considered beneficial and strongly encouraged.
Ultimately, library administrators and department heads need to convince the appropriate bean counters that such “play” would ultimately benefit their constituencies. Otherwise, staff might feel like they’re doing something wrong, even if they’re actually doing something that might have beneficial long-term results.
(In response to Anonymous’ new post)
Thanks for responding to my question. I know that it would be considered “anecdotal” evidence, but I find your perspective quite interesting since it seems to go beyond the conventional wisdom about the expectations of Millennials. I would like to continue the dialogue on Millennial attitudes towards libraries elsewhere, as this thread actually focuses on a slightly different (though related) topic. With your permission, I would like to post your comments verbatim on my own blog, prefaced with some introductory and closing comments of my own. That way, more people can add comments about their own experiences vis a vis Millennials and libraries.
Sure, no problem.
(In response to Anonymous)
Thanks! I’ve now have a posting about your comments on my blog.
I’d post a response but I’d hate for my comments to reflect negatively on my employer.
I’m taking back that last comment, as it’s the first knee-jerk reaction I’ve had in this thread and despite beliefs to the contrary, I was deliberately trying to avoid that.
I’m happy to continue a dialogue in email or on another site.
Me too. (sorry – couldn’t resist) 🙂
Meredith, you said “You can be a Christian without thinking that everyone who doesn’t believe in the same things you do are wrong/going to hell/going to be wiped out soon by a plague.” Then you started talking about fundamentalism. Ahem… There are fundamentalists/groupthinkers on BOTH sides of that issue. The point? Christians don’t need to simply believe what other christians tell them – they should see what Jesus said about it (since it IS his religion, and all). Same for atheists – it’s sorta dumb to NOT believe, if you haven’t even read the book in the first place.
And the same goes for all this huge discussion going on – please don’t believe something is great just by reading [insert favorite blog here] – instead, go do it yourself (you as in a library institution), and see if it works for you. Does Second Life/Blogging/Wikis/Etc work in your institution? Great. Oh, they don’t? Great. At least you figured it out for yourself, rather than simply jumped on the “this is cool so I have to do it” bandwagon.