Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On Bridges, 2.0 and Other Thoughts About Being Caught in the Middle

A few days ago, I read Rachel Singer Gordon's column from Library Journal "The 'Bridge' Generation". I found it from reading Meredith Farkas's blog under the cool things she found this week. Meredith also wrote about the Web 2.0 backlash. Initially when I read about the 2.0 backlash I was tempted to stay away from the whole thing. I tend to stay away from things I know the experts will pick up, but given the back and forth between the 2.0 gurus and those who have not quite caught up, let's go with the 1.0 label for now, I finally caved in because I need to work some of this out for myself. So here goes.

I don't think the whole issue is so much that the Web 2.0 advocates don't defend the concept. I think they actually defend it very well. In fact, they do so a bit too well. That may be part of the problem. At times, the advocates seem to say you are with us or against us. They say you should be doing X or Y and wonder why the rest of us don't see it as self-evident. The ones who think it is hype only seem to get their suspicions that it is all hype confirmed. The nature of the conversation has been confrontational from the start. I am sure the 2.0 advocates did not intend it that way, but by taking an attitude of "this is best, here is why, and you will fall behind if you don't adopt (or adapt)," it just makes others question and say "oh, really?"

I have mixed feelings about the whole Library 2.0 thing. Like Meredith, I have read the many wonderful reports about technology folks and libraries. What concerns me is when the attitude of join us or be square seems to seep into some of the conversations. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it is a tool, and it has to work. I think what happens very often is someone reports something great, a whole lot of other people pick up on it, and they all proclaim that we should all be doing this. As I sit here typing, I realize we never hear of the ones who tried X or Y and fell flat when it did not work for them. I am sure they are out there. Again, I don't think the confrontational tone is intentional, but it can often come across that way. In part it is because many of these authors may not recognize that not all libraries have great funding or techno-adventurous staff. Now, I will grant that a lot of the tools mentioned around Library 2.0 are Web-based and free, so the cost in that sense is not an issue; possible costs in terms of staff time is a separate deal. Michael Stephens, of Tame the Web, recently made 5 Suggestions for Upgrading to Library 2.0. My initial reaction was "that seems nice, but it leaves things out." For instance, his suggestion of sending folks to places like the Gaming Symposium, while idealistic, may not be very practical in terms of funding. My case is a perfect example. If I told my library director that I wanted to form a "think tank" for technology issues and send three other people and me to a few symposia and conferences like Michael suggests, my director would probably flash me a very nice smile and diplomatically tell me that there's no money for that. Pure and simple. That's just one example.

Then there is the element of buy-in, which I think is where much of the issue comes in. The advocates in their rush to have the latest don't convince or educate others very well. The HigherEd BlogCon that Meredith highlights will likely address some of this, though I wonder how much of it will be preaching to the choir. What I would really be interested in is what the participants will bring back to their institutions. How exactly will they move to educate others to show that, in spite of the hype, there are some very useful things libraries should at least consider? This is a question I learned to ask as a teacher consultant for the National Writing Project. In that program, a large part of the thrust was on what would we take back to our schools or institutions and how we would implement what we learned. As for the question, notice I used the word "consider." While I am all for collaborative spaces, better service and access, and more openness, I don't assume (or try not to assume) every library has to have every new 2.0 toy or gadget. What may work for you may not work for me. That's all I would ask, that those in the vanguard don't disregard those still in 1.0 or below.

And this takes me back to Rachel's article, for you see, I am Generation X. When I was an udergraduate, my library had a card catalog I learned to use. They were gradually phasing it out. I am caught in the middle and because of that, I feel for those in Library 1.0 because they helped to shape a part of how I am today. I also feel for the 2.0 crowd because I love new challenges and ideas; I do like trying out new toys, but I am by no means an early adopted. I will get there when I get there, thank you very much. In the end, we all share one thing in common: our desire to serve others to the best of our ability. That should be the principle that guides us. Rachel notess that the boomers need to share their knowledge with the rest of us. I will go on to say that the 2.0 folks need to do the same as well, in a wise way. It has to be a true conversation. As long as the tone, or undertone, remains confrontational, you can't have dialogue. It's time both sides reached across the aisle and across other zones. Stephen Cohen studying the wisdom of crowds and going outside the comfort zones. While he is arguing from a 2.0 point of view, advocating that we should be present at the places other professionals and experts outside of LIS are, he asked this question: "We are talking to each other and not anyone else beyond our "comfort" zone. Why aren't we bringing our ideas and tools to non-librarians?" I think some are talking to each other, and a few are just either listening, or trying to make sense of the talk. Reaching out will involve getting out of the comfort zone.

Maybe for me anyways, writing about this is my small way to try to open a bridge. Being in the middle as an educator is not a bad place to be if I can learn from both ends as well as teach what little I may know. If I can truly accomplish this, I may be getting somewhere.

As I was about to wrap up, it seems the whole 2.0 thing exploded over the weekend if my Bloglines feeds were any indication. I found at least three different posts on the topic here, here, and here. It may get interesting yet.

Update note (at 11:54a): I came across this post on Updating your buzzwords from Creating Passionate Users. The humor is good, but I think it catches some of what I was thinking about. At any rate, worth reading. I found it through the ACRLog. I went ahead and subscribed to Passionate, at least to try it out.


Paul Miller said...

I certainly hope that any contributions to the discussion from Talis are not coming across as confrontational.

We truly are trying to stimulate and participate in a discussion, and I personally am finding the different viewpoints fascinating. I may not agree with all of them, but I'm learning from them.

And no, we certainly don't feel that all libraries will be at similar points along the adoption curve. We need to canvass a wide set of views, work with those who are able to participate early, and look to rolling those innovations out to more libraries over a protracted period of time.

And, for those who don't feel comfortable engaging in public discussion, please feel free to contact me - paul[dot]miller[at]talis[dot]com - directly with any views that you might wish to share.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Paul: While I read the TALIS paper as linked by others, I had more in mind some of the evangelists in the biblioblogosphere. I did go back and take a look at your response over at the ALA TechSource Blog, which I think more people should look at; it makes a good summary of your view. I am sure not perfect, since comments can rarely be polished (I know mine rarely are). Maybe evangelists is not the best term either, but I have seen it used at least once in the context of some people being overeager. Do I think change is a good thing? Sure, I am the first to say we should embrace change and even chaos. Do I think everyone is ready to jump at the same time? No, just like in any classroom, you have the really bright gifted kids, and you have the ones that need a little extra help. My concern is that in the shuffle the gifted ones will go along fine and leave the others behind. Right now, I am just looking at the conversation as someone who is somewhere in the middle. On the one hand I am excited about the new things, on the other, I am one of the people in the trenches who get to teach the stuff to everybody that comes in through the door. And I suppose this makes me a little more aware. I am always fascinated by the many things and ideas people put out there. Most the time, like I mentioned in my post, I leave it to the experts and sit to enjoy the wave. But once in a while, something comes along that as a teacher I have to wonder about. This just happened to be one of them. However, I am still on a wait and see. I think this will get more interesting. I think there are a lot of opportunities, and a lot of good things can happen. Thank you for stopping by, and for giving your information that others may contact you and continue the dialogue. Best.

Paul Miller said...

That's OK, then... :-)

Paul - entitled 'Technology Evangelist', but hopefully not "overeager"!

Mark said...

Excellent post Angel!

I too am one of those folks in the middle, at least technologically, and am certainly a boomer. Honestly, though, I can't stand most of the generations talk. When we label large groups of people and then treat them as a set of character traits we have shut down the conversation before it has already started. I also know many 20-somethings who have far more in common with boomers than their own generation, and vice versa.

I am definitely a mid-level techie. But there is much more that I'd like to do, or at least try, but have no one to help me learn. And before someone jumps in and asks why I can't learn myself, I am perfectly capable of that. In many cases, the thing to be learned is not how, but why? Why is this useful to me or my users? I can see the 'usefulness' of much social software; but most of it seems completely irrelevant to me right now. But with someone to help show me reasons other than the obvious ones who knows what would happen. The same goes for all of the players in our arena. Very little is ever learned by anyone if it isn't personally relevant. (Except in a punishment environment, and if one is being punished, well it's mighty relevant all of a sudden.)

So thank you for trying to bridge this divide! I do agree with your observation. There is a definite divide within the biblioblogosphere, much less within libraries, about these sorts of issues, and there is an awful lot of preaching. Every time I read about "drinking the Kool-Aid" I think about Jim Jones and his cult. Maybe the folks who use that term ought to go look up 'Kool-Aid' at Wikipedia.

So keep up the bridge work; it can only help!

walt said...

You know, if you and others write commentaries this sensible and eloquent, and I just wait long enough, I won't have to put my own neck out there; I'll just write a brief note pointing here and there and there.

I've already encountered the fuzzy line between noting that a Wonderful New Idea may have drawbacks and being labeled an obstructionist for raising any doubts. (But then, if I read some of the blogging from the Gamer's thingie correctly, at least one of the speakers seems to be saying "People like that will die off anyway," which is certainly one answer, if a slightly mean-spirited one).

Keep up the good work. There is a middle ground, and maybe people need to work more on retaining the middle as a possibility, something that seems harder these days (in any number of areas).

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Mark: I try not to let the generational talk get to me, at least not too much. What I also wonder about is how this 2.0 is turning into a generational talk, if you will. While I am sure there are some of my "seniors" (and yes, as a boomer, you would be an example) who are very savvy, knowledgeable, and open to changes, there are some who are not. I am willing to bet in some cases it is not so much that they do not have those traits. It may be more that they need to be convinced or shown the relevance, a point which you make very well. It's the why. It's points like that which I think some of the evangelists need to keep in mind. I could say more, but this is starting to turn into something that probably deserves a post, so stay tuned. As always, thank you for stopping by, and keep on blogging.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Walt: Not too sure on the eloquent part. One thing I have found in the biblioblogosphere are a lot of eloquent folk who teach me a few more things now and then. As for sensible, I try. I think when I wrote that I looked at it as a teacher, especially with the eyes of a school teacher. I think some of it was class or issues of equality, thus my reference to the gifted and those that need a little more help.

Actually, I was waiting for you (and some others) to stick their necks out, as you say, haha. In a serious note, I did see the line and risk of being labeled obstructionist if you ask too many questions. I mean, we do it anyways in our work (assuming we are doing our work the way it's supposed to be done). I found this expert pontificating, and his gist was pretty much you should do this or else. I have been kicking myself since for not tagging it because it would have been a good illustration of your point. In the meantime, I try to remain hopeful. I am not wishing anyone ill, tempting as it may be. In this instance, I will ignore Lazarus Long's advice on yielding to temptation. Best, and keep on blogging.