I’m starting to feel like I’m witnessing the blogospheric version of the Tower of Babel story. There are a lot of people talking about Library 2.0 and I think there is also a lot of misunderstanding about what anyone is really saying. Bad girl that I am, I actually really enjoyed the Annoyed Librarian’s take on the 2.0 dogma:
This has all the hallmarks of the convert and the ideologue, political or religious. The converts and ideologues all like to set up these false dichotomies: Agree with me or you’re evil (or perhaps just stupid). Accept without criticism whatever gobbledygook my fellow convert and ideologue says, or you’re a bad person. Do things my way or you aren’t “user-centered.”
I don’t read AL literally, but I often enjoy the spirit of what she is saying. And in this case, I agree with the spirit of what she is saying. I think there has been a lot of “you’re either with us or you’re not user-centered” rhetoric, but less in the past year than prior to that. Back then I read plenty of blog posts that said people who are against the Library 2.0 are afraid of change or clearly just don’t understand the dire situation that libraries are in. I don’t hear it so much now, but I still do hear a lot of rhetoric that I think would alienate a lot of people who don’t share their fervor.
Not to pick on David King, who is someone I think of as being a very pragmatic and level-headed person when it comes to technology, but I think he missed several key things that the Annoyed Librarian wrote when he wrote his response to her. Namely:
Note: I should state for the record that not everyone who advocates “user-centered” services or the use of social software is a twopointopian. Twopointopians are those folks who have the fervor of converts or ideologues, who want a “movement” and a “manifesto,” who want to preach their gospel and ignore criticism, who claim all their critics are just selfish and not sufficiently “user-centered,” who believe there’s only one good way, their faddish new way.
I, like a lot of librarians, am perfectly comfortable with using technology to connect with library users and teaching other people about it.
I don’t know her personally, but I get the sense that the Annoyed Librarian doesn’t hate her users, does use technology in her library, and is interested in user-centered services. I just think she doesn’t buy into a lot of the hype and has a really funny way of expressing her dislike of what she refers to as “cults” (definitely not a term I’d use). Would that I were so funny…
I’m more concerned, though, about those at other parts of the 2.0 idea adoption spectrum (which is more of about personal philosophy than what is going on at their library). Here’s my totally lame attempt at showing this spectrum, which is obviously more complex than this, but for the purposes of my post it needn’t be. Thanks to my new colleague and officemate, Josh Petrusa (who will soon be blogging if I have anything to say about it), for helping me process these ideas on our white-board. He’s a brand-new MLS with a very level-headed view of technology and user services. Wonderful to have someone like that to bounce ideas around with.
I have dealt with a lot of people who are like kids in a candy store when it comes to these technologies. Like someone who told me the other day that Flickr is the logical next thing libraries should have after a blog (never mind whether there’s a need for either of them or not, I suppose). I used to be one of those kids in a candy store. I remember when I came to Norwich over two years ago, eager to implement blogs, wikis, etc. And a lot of the initial things I tried to implement failed. Why? Because I put the tool before the need, I didn’t consider the fact that my colleagues may not want to use these tools, and I didn’t really consider the maintenance burden these tools have. My first successful “2.0” project was IM reference and that was successful because I came to my colleagues with a detailed proposal documenting the need for it and how we would make it happen. Once they were on-board, I did plenty of trainings and made sure that they were comfortable using what was for them a new tool. And we’ve been successfully providing IM reference now since January 2006. But it’s mainly because it was done right, putting the need before the tool.
I love the Learning 2.0 program and I think it’s amazing how many people it has taught about social technologies. But I think in its pure PLCMC state it is missing an element critical to learning about any of this: how to successfully implement these tools. And that involves thinking about what your population needs, what your library/staff can support, how to sell ideas to staff and administrators, how to train people to use this stuff and more. I think some people (and not just those who went through the Learning 2.0 program — I don’t blame the program in the least) have bought into the technology without really learning about the user-centered part. They’re like Phaethon, where they hold the powerful reigns, but don’t know how to successfully make the sun rise. That practical piece is critical to learning about this stuff.
I think most people who are into this stuff, me included, fall into the “Pragmatists” category. We are big technology fans, but we understand that these tools should only be used in libraries to fill needs. We realize that not all of our patrons are tech-savvy and that many of them have needs that can’t be filled by 2.0 technologies. We know that any time we focus on a 2.0 technology, we take time and resources away from something else, so we must carefully prioritize our technology use at work. Pragmatists manage to be both excited and skeptical. I know Jessamyn commented on the Annoyed Librarian’s post, but I don’t think anyone would accuse Jessamyn of not being level-headed about technology and not cognizant of the have-nots. She, in fact, exemplifies the pragmatists. There is a great middle out there between some of the folks who comment on the Annoyed Librarian’s blog (I’ll get to them soon) and the Twopointopians (for lack of a better word).
The grazers I see as being more skeptical of some of the social technologies than the pragmatists. They are the folks who bristle at the idea of a library in MySpace, even if the library profile has a legitimate purpose. They often feel like libraries are mainly implementing these tools to be cool (and in some cases, they are, but certainly not always). However, they want to use technology to meet user needs and they especially like the idea of using blogs, wikis and similar tools internally in the library. However, they often question the time spent on social technologies in libraries (especially the more time-consuming things like videos), since there are so many other important things they should be focusing on in their library.
Next we have the people who are hearing about all this stuff on blogs and are totally overwhelmed by it all. They feel pressured to have a blog, a flickr account, a wiki, rss feeds in the catalog, etc. and they have no idea where to start. They’re paralyzed. Often they do nothing or maybe make some halfway attempt to have a blog that fails because they don’t really want to devote time to it nor do they really see a need for it. And when it fails, they see that as a confirmation that this stuff isn’t for their library. They don’t realize that what they really need to do is to survey their population (both those who use the library and those who don’t) and find out how to best meet their needs. If it’s with social software, great! If it’s with more Spanish-language books, great! If it’s classes on starting a home-based business, swell! We don’t all need to do what the Ann Arbor District Library does because we don’t all have that same population. The key is to focus on your changing user population and what they need.
Then there isthe alienated mass, who can be seen in all their glory as they comment on any posts the Annoyed Librarian has written on Library 2.0. Like the Twopointopians that the Annoyed Librarian has described, these folks paint everyone who is into 2.0 technologies (or talks about user-centered services) with the same brush. I’m not really sure what to make of these people or how to reach them. It’s often hard to find common ground with people on the extreme sides of things. I usually try to focus on the middle, because it’s in the middle that real dialog and change can occur.
Those the Annoyed Librarian called Twopointopians are all about teaching others about Library 2.0, right? Well, obviously, some of their rhetoric is alienating some people and is not really giving some all of the information they need to make informed decisions about technology. So how do we fix that?
How do we talk to those who are overwhelmed by these new technologies? How do we speak to those who are so excited to implement these technologies that they’re going to do it whether their patrons want it or not? How do we speak to the people who grok blogs for sharing information with patrons but think librarians in MySpace and Second Life is a joke? How do we speak to people who hate all the dogma so much that they have completely shut out anyone who talks about social software and whatnot — even in a pragmatic way? How do we speak to the ones who are too afraid of getting into a fight to publicly disagree with Library 2.0 stuff, but who are so disgusted with the dogma that they shut out even level-headed ideas for improving their libraries? Yes, there are people who are against change. Yes, there are people who think their patrons are stupid. But I don’t think a lot of the people who don’t buy into this stuff feel that way. And I wonder how we can better impart knowledge and get people excited about social technologies without alienating some and being misunderstood by others.
I think the key is to try to understand the people who don’t agree with us as being as complicated and three-dimensional as we are. Let’s never dismiss anyone’s arguments by saying that they must be against technology or change or whatever. Let’s start with everyone from a point where we assume that they want their library to be good and user-centered. Let’s try to really understand what their objections are or what we might be saying that is either giving them a false impression or turning them off entirely. How can we make our message work for them? How do we speak to their skepticism?
There will always be people for whom there is no meeting in the middle; where there is no “give” no matter how good/logical your argument is. But I think there are a lot of people out there feeling skeptical, overwhelmed and alienated who might be willing to listen to what they would consider level-headed talk about user-centered change and social technologies. I’m constantly learning from the objections of people who listen to my talks or take my classes. Most of the objections are good ones, and it helps me to better convey my own message next time. We need to take all of it to heart, I think; by dismissing critics or simplifying their arguments, we only make our own arguments less convincing.