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CIL2007

what does a librarian gauntlet look like? are there pearls involved?

Twitter has officially eaten my brain. My one complaint is that it hangs when I’m ref-logging. If I don’t give it a moment between tweets, it gets angry and reposts my last one and then eats it. Not that this is terribly relevant, but I used to encourage people not to personify technology. “It’s all ones and zeros, it can’t hate you.” I thought this would be helpful and comforting. I was so wrong. It’s too hard to talk about tech problems without resorting to anthropomorphism, it’s also kind of boring (Twitter is occasionally problematic when I try to enter two Tweets back to back… snore.)

In a day to day work capacity, discouraging personification of computers was shooting myself in the foot. For all those zillions of times when a reboot fixes the problem, I don’t really have a good answer besides “eh, it was tired.” Well, I have a bunch of made-up answers: “Packet loss/collision” “Our ISP handles/requires/did that” “It should be fine from now on” “There was a process running in the background” et cetera!

Okay, not really. I still secretly think ascribing motivation or personality to a computer isn’t a good way of thinking about it, but it’s an easy way to talk about computer problems.

Everyone’s a-buzz about Blyberg‘s post about David King’s rant at CiL. I was in the session when he asked those questions and it was a little (okay, a lot) depressing (though it made me love my job just a wee bit more- I didn’t raise my hand). What I found myself wondering about was the distinction between institutional resistance to change or new ideas or technology and a few difficult coworkers. I didn’t pick loose cannon librarian just because I like alliteration- being the person who says “let’s try this!” at a library can be a little like being the resident lunatic. However, there’s a big difference between fighting a culture of resistance and “no” and working with a few people who are a bit panicked about what you’re saying. Those few people can feel like major resistance, and sometimes they are- all it takes to squelch innovation is a small group devoted to the status quo.

I wonder how many of the people who raised their hands are working with administrators who want to try new things, but who think everyone has to be on board to proceed. Librarians are like Quakers when it comes to consensus. It’s good and it’s helpful to move everyone along together, but it can give disproportionate power to the “whatever happened to the good old days” crew and it can bring personal conflicts into play when they should be left at the water cooler.

That’s not to say we should be pushing forward and leaving anyone who has a question in the dust. Tech evangelism and training are hugely important, but when they become chains, the library suffers.

Librarianship has been fundamentally changed by technology more than many other fields. People who went to library school to help others foster a shared passion for books, reading and knowledge now spend a lot of their day helping people recover their Yahoo passwords and fill out online job applications. How frustrating is that? At CiL, Tim Spalding talked a lot about funability in the catalog. Fun is the easiest way to get people interested in technology. No one is going to want to do their job in another new way if it’s more work. Bartering can be good too: “If you work with me on this new project, I’ll work on a way to make a boring task you have to do easier, so you have more time for fun with me.”

Those are my tactics, which don’t work at all in a larger culture of resistance. Library culture as a whole is fairly change-resistant, so maybe all of the relentless enthusiasm of Library 2.0 folks isn’t the right way to change that. Maybe it’s time to collectively throw down the gauntlet and say “this is it, it’s your job, suck it up and get with the program!” How un-librarian like!

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