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Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Hybrid Librarians Toolkit

[I'm 41 years old, so my ability to listen to a presentation and take notes on it whilst writing up the previous two blog posts is limited. Coherency and depth of understanding may suffer. There is, however, coffee in the meeting rooms, so huzzah.]

Jessamyn's next presentation (OLC does try to get its money's worth out of speakers!) was Until We're All Robots: Sensible Approaches to Technology in Libraries. She outlines what in the current environment that so many of us find threatening: "We are entering a playing field where our users may know more than we do, about a lot of things." Digital information is inevitable, and libraries of all sizes are going to have keep coping with this in expanding ways. We are a hybrid librarians, and this, she suggests, is our toolkit:
She went on to talk about various hot-button issues, like interface design (to many people, the interface is the information), copyright and digital rights management, filtering, social software ("First you've never heard of them, then they're legislated against in your library.") For each of these, the toolkit provides (as advertised) a sensible approach: What are we trying to do for them? What part of all this is our responsibility? Let them know that we're learning as they are.


"Your computers are their only computer"

In her first presentation of the day, The Information Poor and the Information Don't Care: Small Libraries and the Digital Divide, Jessamyn starts out talking about just what the "Digital Divide" means in Vermont. There simply isn't access to broadband; she floats a factoid that only 56% of the Verizon lines in the state can support high speed. So yeah: some people just can't get high speed Internet access; some people don't want it or don't think they need it. But there is, as we know, an information access issue: how are these people supposed to access e-government services?

She reminds us that the library's computers are the only computers some people have. The decisions we make about the computers profoundly affect patrons' information lives. Her message?
You cannot make people do what you want, and you cannot make them desire what you want them to desire.

You need to advocate for people without access or knowledge as their representative not the vendors' representative, and not as a visitor from the brave new techno-shiny world.

This means not just education, not just experience, but also patience and a lot of empathy.
You can't make them want to use computers, but you can explain why it might be a good idea. Your attitude can't be that you're The Gatekeeper: "Don't do this on our computers." Understand instead that this is their only computer.

I liked her advice that we should remember what we went through -- learning to understand what email was, and how to navigate new electronic databases and changing interfaces. Those experiences are good to draw on when we're helping them.


Small Libraries Conference

The OLC Small Libraries Conference is going on right now, and Jessamyn West has subtly shamed me into blogging it. Since this is the IT Division blog, I'll stick to writing about the tech programs. But first, some general thoughts:

Bill Martino, program chair, objects to the phrase "small libraries." He says that they are libraries that serve small communities, and he has a valid point. Most of the libraries in Ohio are "small libraries." (When you look at how the percentage of stats breaks out statewide, you see that about 51 libraries are above the mean, while 200 libraries are below).

I first attended the Small Libraries conference two years ago, and loved it. At OPLIN, most of the time I find myself talking to the people from the same 50-80 libraries. That leaves 170-200 libraries whose staff I don't get to spend a lot of time chatting with.

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