Responses to Jenny’s and Alex’s comments on "How to lose your tech librarians and Rory Litwin: Some thoughts," which was a response to Jenny’s comment on "Rory on "Questioning the Techie Mission." This discussion was also furthered along by Jessamyn at librarian.net.
And you get the marquee again, because I seriously appreciate those who make me think, even if it, and maybe especially if, it is to challenge my views.
Thanks for these well-thought out comments. I guess the best way is to kind of go paragraph-by-paragraph.
I fully agree with your 1st paragraph. Maybe I didn’t nuance my point enough. I certainly don’t think there are real librarians who accept ALL technology. That’s not the point. It is the unquestioning acceptance of any specific technology. And as to whether the finer points of del.ic.ious vs. spurl vs. Connotea (just as an example) are debated is also not the issue. It is the unquestioned acceptance, or one-sided discussion of benefits, for the need of said technology that is at issue. All technologies have positive and negative impacts on those who use them, those who don’t, and on the world. What is extremely rare is any honest discussion of anything other than the benefits to users or potential users.
2nd para. I generally agree with what you say here. It is complex and highly difficult, but what I am advocating for above must be (tentatively) attempted even with "unproved technologies." Of course, it is an ongoing process. The most benign seeming technologies may later be discovered to have a most nefarious use, thus it is an ongoing process.
As for who we are attempting to attract, I’m not sure if you mean as patrons or as future librarians, but I’m going with patrons. I’ll be addressing this soon (I hope) in more detail, but I think this is a classist response based on the inherent classist bias of the studies that lead to gen-gens [generational generalizations]. Maybe, Urbana Free and Champaign Public and many of the other libraries that librarian bloggers work at have these sorts of (potential) patrons in their communities. But read about Jessamyn’s efforts to educate seniors on how to use a mouse, or to take the grand step to emailing their grandkids [an example]. These sorts of patrons are everywhere.
So there certainly is some validity to implementing some of these technologies in certain libraries, but only based on one’s own patrons and communities. Of course, this simplistic answer is seriously complicated by the fact that many communities are highly mixed along various factors that influence the tech savviness of potential or current patrons.
There does seem to be a preponderance of voices in the biblioblogosphere that are arguing for ALL librarians and ALL libraries to just wake up and get on the bandwagon now and start IMing, start doing podcasts, have a blog, and so on. Once in a while, they’ll slip in an "but it’s really about your users." But, as Mr. Litwin was trying to point out, take a look at the rhetoric. It is rarely nuanced as it should be.
3rd para. "…technology needs no help from us… However, we could use some help from it,…." I certainly agree, and I have no doubt that Mr. Litwin would. Again though, the point being, what are the reasons for the use of a specific technology? And what are the reasons one might not want to use it, and were they even considered? And I am not referring to using a different piece of software (or whatever0 because it is cheaper, is open source, or whatever, but of the consequences of its (or a similar products) use generally.
5th para. True. No contest. There are cases where services are not being provided, even easily and cheaply, because they do involve some sort of (higher) technology. I don’t have an answer to the "Michael Gormans" of the world.
6th para. On need to serve both sides of the digital divide. I can’t say that I disagree. But. And this is a big but for me. While we (and rightfully so) serve those on the "positive" side of the digital divide, the gap just grows wider and wider. And there are serious issues of power and social justice here. And I have issues with that; for many reasons.
I really like my iPod, my surround sound home theater system, my laptop, having a car, and so on. But many, many Americans (much less billions of others in the world) will never have any of these things. Our lifestyle is simply unsustainable. And in the process, we will make human life on Earth unsustainable. If "Western culture" would simply self-implode I wouldn’t care so much, but it won’t.
I certainly don’t have the answer(s). And in many ways I am a hypocrite [See the (short) list of possessions.] But, nonetheless, these issues of social justice, power, and sustainability concern me deeply.
7th and 8th para. "Few people outside of academia/libraries/publishing care about books. Sorry, it’s true. They do care about getting info easily tho! They like renting dvds and video games!"
Sorry, I cannot and will not accept that first claim. The data from library circulation stats (of books) and from the publishing industry (worldwide) simply do not support any such claim. It is completely untenable!
As for the last part and para 8, yes, it’s true. I’m sorry, I cannot answer as to why it has taken 30 years to get video games into libraries (and only a few at that). Part of the reason may have something to do with the again classist assumption that ALL Gen Xers grew up with video games, although that does not answer the why question in areas where that generalization is highly correlated to the community.
Penultimate papra. "Seriously, no one thinks all tech is good, specifically those of us who work with it every day. Who are these people?"
Again, the who likes ALL tech is a strawman argument. No one has made (or at least intended to make) that claim. [I refer anyone to my Disclaimer on the upper left sidebar.] I do, unfortunately, often talk (and write, in "looser" forums such as this) in vague, universalist ways. It is a very old habit that I have yet to discover how it arose. And, yes, I often believed many of the silly universalist claims that I made.
But I have since learned to the very depths of my being that there are few (and maybe none, but I won’t go universal here) universal "truths," "facts," or whatever you want to label them. The human world, at least, simply does not work that way. The argument is about the general tendency towards acceptance of technologies as useful. This trend is not universal, and it affects people to different depths, but without serious and extended conscious effort on one’s part this trend is inherent in our technological society [See Jacques Ellul on this. And, yes, Ellul has some definite limitations, but his analysis of this part of the technological system is correct.].
First, let me say thanks for comment and that I think it adds to the larger discussion.
I had saw your comment (when exactly, I’m not sure) over at librarian.net. And I have to say that I agree. As for what I missed, well, I beg to differ, but I didn’t miss it at all. That was the point of my mostly extraneous personal reflections, which I added for some context. I didn’t leave because of the technology. I left entirely because of management decisions, or lack thereof. I thought that was clear, but maybe not. I do admit to being somewhat vague; for many reasons. Maybe I was wrong, but I thought that part was somewhat clear.
As to why I didn’t make it explicitly clear, it was peripheral to the question. Jenny asked me what my thoughts were on Mr. Litwin’s post in reference to the "lose your techie" lists. I don’t see any explicit connections between management issues and his comments. Yes, many of the lists do comment on these aspects of the problem. And some could (and do) argue that Mr. Litwin’s views are what leads to this bad sort of management. To any causal connection, I say bullshit! Questioning of technology is not directly connected to bad management, nor does it causally imply that technology will not be embraced. It is the socially responsible and morally proper stance to take. And it, questioning, is a managerial function. What specific managers do with the results of their questioning, and even how they do the questioning, is causally disconnected from the need and responsibility to do it.
I feel your pain, Alex, I really do. I am not a "serious" tech person, as are many of the people I read or have worked with or go to school with. But I did start out as a major in applied computer science, which I dropped to a minor after completing all of the CS coursse. I code web pages, and try to do so to standards. I teach workshops to library school students on making web pages and assorted topics. I broadcast distance ed classes for my library school and do my utmost to provide a good tech learning experience for my very special patron base (my fellow students) and received many sincere compliments on my ability to make these issues clear. I provided electronic reserves to a university campus for 3 years. I have given presentations to over 90 people on Voyager e-reserves. I am learning XML and mutliple metadata standards, and so on.
But I don’t write in python, or any other programming language. I don’t do mashups, etc. These are all things I may well need to learn, and possibly soon. But I do agree that our field has some serious issues; one of which you brought out in your comments here and at Jessamyn’s:
I have *many* examples of this exact thing happening; developer X (a specialist is Y) suggests we do Y but gets overruled by librarian Z (who does *not* know too much about Y, and certainly have little real-life experience with it), often on the basis that they ‘don’t think that will work for us’, because libraries are special, etc. It is so astoundingly naive! I’ve spent 17 years of my life building up expertise in certain fields, only to be "taught" by librarians who’s read about this somewhere and think they know much about it, that what I’m a specialist in won’t do X, Y or Z. Amazing.
I wholeheartedly agree with you on this one. I don’t understand the why of it though. I have some guesses, but no real understanding. Part of it, at least in academic libraries, is that many librarians have at least 2 masters degrees and are considered subject specialists. But honestly (imho), that is a complete joke. At best, most overeducated librarians are semi-focused generalists. The attitude may come from our supposed *humble* mission to organize all of the world’s knowledge. It may come from ideas of a Western liberal arts education. It may come from…. I just don’t know, but you are correct.
Librarians, the world’s best generalists, seem to treat most other experts as highly dispensable. Heck, we’ve collected and organized your expertise so we can just look it up. I have several friends who are systems librarians or staff (don’t get me started on that one) and I see it all the time. I alluded to it in my personal anecdote.
But, I don’t think I missed that point either. While many folks deferred to my expertise and I deferred to theirs where appropriate, the (librarian) senior management would not defer to the expertise of any of us. I just made the point by personal anecdote as it was causally peripheral to the question at hand, at least as I saw it.
Ok, that’s enough on this one for now. I need to move on and address other comments on other post and bring out some other topics, some of which were hinted at here.
Of course, I don’t mean to squelch discussion. I’ll be happy to continue it if need be. I just mean I need to move on at this moment as my morning is rapidly running out.
Thank you both very much for this discussion! Thanks to Rory Litwin for starting it, and to Jessamyn West for adding to it.