Hyperlinked Library: An inspiration and another challenge

I found @Michael’s Hyperlinked Library to be insightful and inspiring. I really liked the last part of the article where he answered the question of what libraries ought to look like in the future:

When asked what I see for the future of libraries – all kinds of libraries – I imagine a space where users will connect, collaborate, create and care:

Connect: Users will connect with each other and with library staff to follow their dreams and get what they want/need. Access to information sources will be unfettered. Support for technology and managing the ever-growing flow of information will be readily available no matter where users are.

Collaborate: Users will meet in groups. Tribes will form based on projects, interests, community need. Spaces will offer the best in collaborative technologies. Learning will occur here as well.

Create: Users will find the tools they need to share their own stories with their family, friends and the world if they so choose. The best technologies and support for these endeavors will be a part of library services. Library staff will become guides and cocreators. Local content will reign as one of the most unique offerings of the library.

Care: Users who interact with a transparent, playful institution grounded in learning, experimentation will surely care about the library. Those who actively participate will remember the library when funding issues occur or needs for more space or more technology must be met. The library is part of the community and the community holds the library in its heart.

I think these are noble goals that, with ingenuity and clear communication, are achievable. Except maybe for the “information will be unfettered” part, which depends in part on copyright law which the US seems incapable of reforming. But we librarians can help there too by encouraging Creative Commons licensing and pushing the boundaries of fair use.

I think creating and caring are key factors to the future of libraries, because if we can’t spark those in our patrons, our future looks dark indeed. On the bright side, these are things we can influence by how we present ourselves and our resources.

I’d like to touch on one other aspect of the Hyperlinked Library – the section on “Techno-” challenges. The ones that Michael lists are:

  • Techno-lust
  • Techno-stress
  • Techno-divorce
  • Techno-shame
  • Techno-phobia
  • Techno-hesitation
  • Techno-banality

If you don’t remember what these are, or if you’re not in the MOOC I’m taking, then go and read the paper. I can wait. This is the hyper time proposed by Weinberger in the Hyperlinked Organization.

Ok, now that we’re straight on definitions, I can say that in my time as a professional librarian, I have seen all of these challenges on display. I’ve personally experienced Techno-stress and Techno-shame. I’m glad to say that the “culture of perfect” was banned from my organization years ago. We’re definitely in the mode of “Let’s try it and see what happens.”

I see Techno-banality as a positive – provided that you offer a reasonable software suite to your patrons. Our Userful-based workstations are pretty locked down. But they’re up 95% of the time. When we started offering public internet access in the late 1990s, we had wide open Windows machines. They got hit with viruses and malware a lot despite having antivirus software and sometimes our IT staff couldn’t get to them for weeks. I’d rather be able to put an overprotected computer in the hands of a patron than point them to an out of order sign.

Our Userful computers have OpenOffice, GIMP for graphics editing as well as internet access. It is important that your protected system be responsive, though. We recently ran into an issue where special format TIFF files from the US Patent Office were unreadable on our public computers. It was annoying we couldn’t fix it immediately ourselves, but a call to our vendor resulted in new software being installed remotely after a day or so that solved the issue.

Getting back to the discussion of “techno-” problems, I think that Michael’s points are well taken. I do think he left something out though. Sometimes the “Techno-” problems are not the library’s fault. Sometimes they are imposed by parent organizations. For example, as a general rule, the State of Alaska bans most Open Source software. Waivers can be requested, but unless they are deeply common OR there is truly nothing proprietary that will do the job, your request is denied. Our parent department will not accept software that runs on MySQL/PHP, only things that run on regular SQL and the .NET framework. I’m sympathetic to the Department’s red lines because they have a small staff, their own burdens from statewide IT and other limits to supporting a wide variety of software. Still, it keeps us from experimenting with some of the things that libraries worldwide are finding useful.

My library does not have a YouTube channel even though a lot of digitized videos and tutorials could be disseminated that way. Why not? Because the State of Alaska aggressively filters web access for state employees. We have expanded access and could post things to YouTube if we so desired, but few state employees would be able to experience them.

On one level, this sort of external interference doesn’t really need a new category. It is simple Techno-phobia, mixed in with a fear of unproductive employees, high bandwidth bills or both. But locus of the fear in this case is not in the library itself. So I view it as a separate kind of challenge.

I know I’ve run long, but I’d like to end on a positive note. Even when your challenge is external, good communication which addresses external concerns can make the situation better. I mentioned that YouTube was a worthless channel to the State Library due to web filtering. There is a site called SchoolTube which is a moderated service focused on schools and educational organizations. We successfully argued for a state government wide exemption for SchoolTube in part by showing that most state employees were unlikely to spend hours watching cat videos there. Thanks to the statewide waiver, you can now experience our videos. Would we rather have a YouTube channel? All other things being equal, yes. But we’d rather be where our core users (state employees, students, school employees) can see us.

REFERENCE:

Stephens, M. (2011, February). The hyperlinked library [White paper]. Tame The Web (TTW). Retrieved from http://mooc.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/StephensHyperlinkedLibrary2011.pdf

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