Thursday, May 3, 2007

Libraries 1.0 & 2.0 -- the Old & the New

Wow, how can people do this every day?!

Yet, this is how some (many, most??) of our patrons are interacting with the world around them these days, so I'd better get onboard with this New World Order in order to be more effective in my chosen career!

So, finally, after several days of digesting what the GenTech speakers had to say, here are my impressions.

We all know libraries have been facing incredible changes and challenges in the past decade or more. Defining and then accomplishing what we do, how and for whom, not to mention why seems a Sisyphean task these days -- at least since 1993 & Mosaic/Netscape/GUI. Technology is the culprit in making this task so difficult, but it can also be an ally.

Adapt or die. Is that our only option? Marketing seemed to be the overarching theme -- or at least some kind of image-realignment for libraries (public libraries were the main focus).

GenTech 2007 kicked off with Michael Wesch's thoughtful & insightful piece on Web 2.0
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmP4nk0EOE ) & from there the conference was off & running, exploring the new opportunities available as well as looking at existing resources for expaning & redefining libraries & the central role they have (or should have) in their communities.

Some of it was overwhelming.

Michael Porter's presentation offered so many insights as to the kinds & amounts of technologies in use today that it was hard not to hear that sound of the Digital Divide expanding & whooshing past, not only beyond individuals, but beyond the library institutions themselves.

How can libraries possibly compete with that much $$ poured in by the private sector to attract people's attention as well as their time & money?

What it takes is the will to invest the staff time & energy to engage in those activities & spaces where many of our patrons (or potential patrons) spend a lot of their time -- not just by being physically out in the community, but also virtually by blogging, social networking & other online activities. And not just being there, but touting what libraries are, have & can do for them.

Library outreach really needs to be *OUT*. Another point MP made was that libraries should not necessarily be looking to convince people to come *INTO* the library -- that virtual visits can be just as effective & informative & service-driven as in-person interactions. Personally, I think just organizing local & state government info & services into a simpler online pathfinder or database would have patrons weeping with joy.

Dell Jacoby was reassuring in her assessments of the "Gen" aspect of the equation -- the incredible synergy residing in our greatest resource: our staff. There are 4 generations of workers currently in the workplace today & each has its strengths. Listening & learning between and among generations needs to be a two-way (or more) street. I know I will be asking a GenX or Millennial for help with blogging & the rest of this Web 2.0 world just as I will be listening to the Traditionals & Boomers for past practices that succeeded (or failed!). We need to make the most effective use of our respective talents.

Analyzing & rearranging the physical library space as Anne Marie Luthro suggested is a wonderful idea, but it's something I'm sure many of us have already pointed out to our respective Admins & how many of us have actually been succesful? Really -- if you have been successful, please let the rest of us know how you managed it!!

I think we all have pretty good ideas of what needs to be done. The main problem, IMHO, is with bureaucratic, public institutions & the ponderous ways in which they work, not to mention the limited resources available & the limiting policies & procedures in which these resources can or must be used. By the time we get approval for anything, the next version is out & we're behind again... Change is good, but frequent change is really hard to keep up with!

Good luck to us all in finding strategies to cope with these Interesting Times that we're in!

1 comment:

GenXBoomer said...

I'm not sure why there seems to be such concern. I have been in the library profession for 22 years (30 if you count paraprofessional)and the two constants I have found are that, one, the only thing constant is change and two that we are probably one of the most adaptable professional groups in existence.

When I started, we were just escaping the tyranny of punch cards - remember what it was like when you "dropped" your computer job and had to sort them back into order? We've gone through the move from card to online catalogs; from Reader's Index in green buckram to indexes on cd-rom to cd-rom towers to online indexes; from citation only online tools to full text.

We have not only survived we have positively thrived! We learn the skills that are needed to provide the information to our patrons, couple these skills with our ever-morphing people skills. Yes we deal with boomers, Xers and Millenials and learn how to mediate the information need in the way that is appropriate to them. In fact, we often work with all of them within a fifteen minute span at an understaffed desk while coaxing out-of-date hardware to perform. It is not easy, but it is always challenging, thrilling and fulfilling.

So what do we do now? We do what we have always done - we pick the most pressing need and pursue it. In the old days that meant teaching ourselves how to use an online database if there was no training on it and then showing our colleagues.

Some of us are already doing this with the new technologies - we are searching out the blogs and getting the feeds. We are learning about del.ici.ous and Flikr and Twitter. And, we are passing this information on to our colleagues, through training or memos or "Let me show you this neat new thing". In any case, we are doing what we have always done - learning and adapting - to make our patrons' library experience the best it can possibly be.

Cause that is still the bottom line. Yes we will do things a little differently, but then this has always been a part of our profession. And we will be just fine. And so will our libraries. And so will our patrons. Just you wait and see.