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information literacy

literacy is hawt

If you want to get a librarian’s attention, mention information literacy. Or just call us super sexy. Either way, we’ll listen. Peter Bromberg points to (and Chadwick follows up on) a great post at ReadWriteWeb that predicts a future where super sexy librarians

help a growing number of citizen media producers to classify their online media and get it connected to other related content in ways that will increase its discoverability.

Peter adds that this should be de rigueur for librarians who want to be “relevant and help our customers kick ass.” While we probably couldn’t get “the library will help our community and our patrons kick ass” written into too many library mission statements, I’ll be adding this sentiment to my personal on-the-job mental mission statement.

Literacy, book and information, is still at the core of the library’s role in the community. The classroom model (or at least the student-teacher aspect with its attendant power structure) has served us fairly well in the realm of more traditional literacy and will likely to continue to do so. Here, I’m including the obvious (learning to read) and the more subtle: learning to read between the lines, picking up nuance, cultural allusions, ferreting out satire and understanding metaphor. Throw in some technology and we’re still the teachers: mouse skills, distinguishing ads from content online, finding reliable sites, filling out forms and so forth.

ReadWriteWeb’s sexy librarian takes this a step further:

Imagine a future when you go to the library with a 5 minute video you’ve just made about last night’s Presidential debates and that librarian says to you:

You should upload it to YouTube and tag it with these four tags – two broad and two more specific to existing communities of interest on YouTube and the topic of your video. Then you should embed that video in a blog post along with some text introducing it and linking to some of your favorite posts by other people who have also written today about the Presidential debates. Make sure to send trackbacks to those posts!

Now, I think this is a particularly good video on the topic, so if you’re interested I will vote for it on StumbleUpon (as a sexy librarian I have a very powerful account there) and give it a good summary explanation. Any of those are steps you can take that will make your work all the easier for people to discover.

This is, as Peter aptly points out, still information literacy. What’s changed is the nature of the interaction. The relationship between the video-toting patron and the super sexy librarian isn’t as rigid as a traditional student-teacher relationship- this patron is, after all, producing content for the web. That relationship is already morphing; “we are no longer in a position to tell our users what they want” has been the conventional wisdom of the 2.0 age (indeed, the comments are chock-full of librarians kindly pointing out that we do this already). What really strikes me as radical, though, is that the librarian is engaging with the patron’s content.

We engage with content all the time, of course. Reader’s advisory, the occasional foray into proofreading and resume writing are all part of the job and standard issue reference questions are all about, duh, content. But we like to keep ourselves out of it. Some of that is pure self-preservation and will always be necessary (do we want to friend most of our patrons on Flickr? Uh, no, thank you) but some of it is the traditional power structure asserting itself. “Oh, you want to make your video more findable online? Well, here are some sites that have suggestions and here’s an overview of tagging and have a nice day.” isn’t what Marshall Kirkpatrick has in mind. This is taking the “ooh! I love that author too!” enthusiasm of reader’s advisory to content written by the unpublished masses who come through our doors.

We are already doing this, seemingly more in academic libraries than in public. On the public side, what’s going to change is the volume of those unpublished masses yearning to become mini media titans. Marshall says that better recommendations, discoverability and relevance will increase the number of content creators and I hope he’s right. We need more non-librarians like him telling digital newbies “get thee to a library!”

One question remains: how do I get my “very powerful” account on StumbleUpon?


5 comments for “literacy is hawt”

  1. Making a note to come up with my own “personal on-the-job mental mission statement”. I think I’ll write mine down. That could be fun and/or funny.

    Great job Kate! Very timely and on-point.

    Posted by Chadwick | December 21, 2007, 3:19 pm
  2. new blog meme- post your daily inner manifesto!

    and d’oh! i forgot to include a link to your post on the matter. fixing that now!

    Posted by kate | December 21, 2007, 6:27 pm
  3. so… yeah.
    awesome. that was a great blog post, and i like your response. seems that i am coming up with some new ideas for classes… how to market online using new social media… combines blogs, videos, etc to get your message out there… hmm…

    and seriously, who doesn’t like to be called super sexy?

    Posted by maura | December 22, 2007, 11:50 am
  4. […] about “Sexy Librarians of the Future” at ReadWriteWeb. Actually, there are a litany of good responses, but this got me thinking: Reading Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post made me wonder how […]

    Posted by Info Breaker » Blog Archive » Social Networking Literacy | December 26, 2007, 7:16 pm
  5. […] Kate Sheehan, the Loose Cannon Librarian, has a great take on this. Check out her post “literacy is hawt“. Tags: information literacy, Library 2.0, libraries […]

    Posted by Librarians, Got Information Literacy? « Library Garden | September 13, 2009, 11:13 am

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