There’s an idea in the social media-verse that “conversation is the content.” That kind of quote makes me angry. In the article linked to (which isn’t specifically about libraries but for other businesses engaging in social media) Christopher Rollyson is talking about marketing and how content doesn’t mean anything when you’re talking about marketing. For him, social media being social is about not outsourcing your social media to marketers because “people can smell manufactured content a mile away,” which is a different thing. I think too many people involved specifically with Social Media! ignore the idea that collaboration about nothing is empty, and having good content is bedrock essential.
Now, Rollyson has a good point, clouded by a stupid italicized quote, especially in the library world. Manufactured content is dumb and nobody wants to waste their time with it. But equally bad is the idea that a library can just be there being social with nothing to talk about. Chatting about nothing, trading jokes like a real person does on Twitter might be engaging but isn’t useful for a library or organization.
I think you’ve got to have cool stuff to talk about before you start a conversation. That’s how you get Rollyson’s “human spark of knowledge and caring.” Maybe that’s just my aversion to small-talk, but if you want someone engaging in conversation on behalf of your institution that person needs something to talk about. Just talking doesn’t mean shit. If you want an audience to return you’ve got to be doing good work (or at the very least spotting good work others are doing and pointing it out) to be talking about.
We’ll be getting into this more in our course when we’re talking about Creation, I’m sure, but the Rollyson article ticks me off because the blueprint for success in social media needs Vision, Strategy, Test and Services (though the services bullet point is so filled with marketing buzzwords I can’t even read it). Nowhere there does he talk about making something worthwhile to be talking about.
That is my biggest problem with social media. Just because “the medium is the message” doesn’t mean that’s a laudable state or that you can ignore your content. It seems that people get so starry-eyed about it they forget that there needs to be good work going on to be promoting.
Chatting and collaborating just to garner retweets, favourites +1s, or buzz in whatever new digital form is empty bullshit that I for one don’t want to be participating in. I’m in a substance business, not advertising, and though we can use social media to promote our items of substance the medium can’t be our goal.
I wrote a post about collaboration and cursing racers in google docs on Librarianautica.
The best collaboration tool I’ve used so far in library school is hands down Google Docs. I use wikis at work and we used BaseCamp for planning the NetworkEd UBC project, but nothing beats the big G on this.
The best part about it is when you’ve got five people collaborating on a document and everyone has it open on their respective laptop and everyone is editing the text at once. There’s a bit of give and take on that, since it is annoying to be working on the exact same sentence as someone else, but when something like deleting typos becomes a race that’s a fun tool.
When Google Wave came out I got in on the open beta, but there wasn’t a lot to do with it. My friends and I created a Wave to plan a road trip to Chicago, and while it worked, there wasn’t anything about it that was fun or useful. Integrating the best bits of Wave into Google Docs was a great step forward.
I think part of the appeal of Google Docs is that you are producing something, not just talking about producing something. I mean, it’s fine to use tools to chat and plan and such, but if it’s not integrated into the actual production, it’s just another step being pushed into your workflow. If you can collaborate directly on the work that’s a huge deal. You don’t have to reproduce your notes or people’s good ideas into the thing you’re producing, because it’s all right there.
Now, so far I’ve only handed in assignments straight from Google Docs for in-class types of things. Getting them out into LibreOffice is important to get the layout as right as I get fussy about. But separating out the layout/final touches kind of work seems far less onerous than separating the collaboration itself.
That’s what I want out of collaboration: actual work being done rather than having a separate step to talk about the work we want to do. I hate meetings that are just about assigning tasks when you could just be getting to it, right there. The rapid-prototyping model is built into this kind of collaboration. A person writes a sentence. It doesn’t work and gets rewritten right there. There’s chatting in the sidebar about why it doesn’t work and what would be better. “How about this?” someone can ask and you can see if it works or not. There’s no separate step of coming together to pull words apart and then going back to work on it again. Everyone sees the sausage being made, and that’s a good thing.
In my mind this also deals with a bit of the design by committee problem. You aren’t coming up with innoffensive ideas that’ll make it through, you’re putting stuff down with the knowledge it could get zapped straight off but if you delete something you’ve actually made a hole in the project that you need to fill. Maybe that’s not how it works for other people, but that’s the kind of collaboration model I see as a worthy goal, suggested by Google Docs. Collaboration can’t be a separate step, because that makes it easier to ignore.
Really though, I just like racing cursors.
Information professionals should be using social media if they care about the rest of the world. I mean, I’m a fan of cataloguing in a cave, but engaging with your community is important. Even if you’re the most locally focused librarian ever in a community where none of your users give a shit about Twitter it’s important to be using it to pull in information and to show off the knowledge being created in your community.
One thing we learned in our Community-Led libraries course with Beth Davies and Annette de Faveri was the importance of not coming into a space with an agenda. Not showing up and saying “Here are some awesome things the library can do for you!” but hanging out and asking what is happening with them, letting the community lead the library. That takes a long time. I think participating online requires a bit more push than that, because if you’re just hanging out as a library, not talking on Twitter, you’re invisible (in a way you aren’t when you’re sitting in a halfway house with a box of donuts).
I also think the idea of a limit to our participation in social media is stupid. I mean, sure, posting pictures of patrons on Facebook without their permission is a bit sketchy. But stopping information professionals from being part of the world just because of who their employers are is bullshit.
A story from work: A library in Northern Australia was making use of some of Koha’s features to integrate a blog onto the front page of the OPAC. The library staff were creating this information to participate in the wider world and were really proud of it. And then their Communications Department found out and shut it down. Not because of something bad that happened but because of stupid bureaucratic power disputes that said librarians aren’t authorized to create publications. That story makes me incredibly angry. To have participation curtailed by the communications department who wanted more control over messaging is kind of terrible.
Part of my visceral reaction to that story has to do with my personal history working at a public library that had a regressive attitude towards people talking about things online. I was disciplined for blogging about work on my personal time. The disciplinary hearing involved the director of our library telling me I was not fit to be a librarian and shouldn’t go to library school because of my disrespectful attitude. This experience led to my disclaimer/explanation page you can see linked to on my library blog’s on Opinions page, and you can read some of my other ruminations about privacy and the like when that former library actually created a social media policy because of me. That link includes a response to a danah boyd article.
Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken has a good discussion of formal vs informal education, and of the difference between creating consumers and creating people. Participating in culture is the way to the latter. Which brought to mind this quote: “The only thing you should learn from school is that you do not belong.” (The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman)
I wrote a post about creating stakes to fight apathy on Librarianautica.
When I looked up Education 2.0 the bookmarkable stuff I found was a defunct Ning site (and an active one for Art Education) references to the Khan Academy and some interesting articles from Wired in 2007 when they were doing an Education 2.0 spotlight, plus a Neurologist talking about an Education 2.0 that hasn’t been achieved because computers are still an afterthought. They all had to do with interaction and participation through digital media, so that’s good and consistent, I guess. I liked the fact that two Ning groups were noticeable since I think of them as one of the interesting upstart social media companies that seems to have melted away into corporate blandness. (I may be completely misreading the current state of Ning. If so, and you care, I’m sorry.)
Another use of 2.0 I looked briefly at was a subject dear to my heart, comics. Specifically webcomics. There was a book in 2008 called Webcomics 2.0 and reviews even then mentioned the confusing nature of the title, since the book might be seen as a sequel. I thought that was kind of interesting since this was a book made about internet people and you’d think the audience would be up on the buzzwords.
As far as libraries go, I found an interesting non-bloggish blogspot site from 2008 run on by the State Library of NSW, billed as a Learning 2.0 course. While they use the 2.0 thing consistently with the rest of the webiverse there (though Australians I’ve met tend to say “web two” instead of “web two point oh” which still weirds me out), what I really liked is how they called their 2010 sequel course New South Wales public library learning 2.1. The idea that you don’t jump straight from 2.0 to 3.0 and that bit of consistency with how computer people do version numbers, which is where we got the whole 2.0 thing from anyway, made me very happy.
I feel like libraries and other information organizations just use the 2.0 because they like to keep up with trends from five years before. Individuals within organizations might be pushing for things earlier, but by the time stuff gets approved it’s become cliché. I guess the good thing about only using the terms once they’re cliché is that “everyone knows” by now that people saying 2.0 mean something to do with computers. It doesn’t mean much but it’s something to start with, I guess. (And if people don’t try to make godawful puns with it.)
Using social media as a way of creating a space for people to have a stake in their culture is hugely important. That’s how you fight apathy and how you a human is alive. The notion of people asking Why Wasn’t I Consulted? more in the internet age compared to the TV age is huge.
“Politics, as constructed by the news, becomes a spectator sport, something we watch but do not do” (Jenkins 2008: 10).
That is a terrible thing. If there’s going to be a revolution it can’t be televised because everyone needs to participate in it.
This is an issue that affects librarians even beyond the actual serving of our patrons, but in keeping our jobs. A bit on library student apathy from Magpie Librarian:
We’ve been thinking of who our next advocates might be. I thought I was pretty damn brilliant to think of trying to tap into the MLS student population. I figured that a) they’re already passionate about libraries and b) they have a vested interested in wanting library jobs to open up. I went to speak at a NY library school that I will leave unnamed. They well-publicized my event during curriculum space (a time when there would be no classes). I spoke in the student lounge to a group of students glued to their textbooks. I talked about library closures, layoffs, the future of libraries. I didn’t get much of a response, other than an uncomfortable wall of silence. One of my fellow Urban Librarianites called out, “Do any of you care about advocacy? You know, the apathy is what’s going to kill us.” A girl looks up from her textbook, “I have a lot of reading to do.” I silently handed out some advocacy tips and got the hell out of dodge.
R. David Lankes’ states in his Atlas of New Librarianship:
The MISSION of LIBRARIANS is to IMPROVE SOCIETY through FACILITATING KNOWLEDGE CREATION in their COMMUNITIES.
I love the concept of librarians being agents of change, and how it requires more than simply lurking. There has to be creation going on, not just talking, but creating a space for people to participate in creation is one of the most important things a library can do.