Thursday, November 6, 2008

In the Beginning....

As I venture into the blog scene, I wonder where it will take me. My hope was to create a place where LIBIT alumni and students could share their ideas. There is so much going on in the world of information - so much that most of us are unable to really keep up. However, we wouldn't be library folk if we didn't try!

So, as I sit in the semi-darkness, thinking about my career, my education, and my fantasy of winning the 649, I also wonder about the future of libraries. A colleague that worked for OCLC recently informed me that 69% of people surveyed from around the world picture books when they hear the word "library". Yet, are we not trying to brand ourselves as technologists, computer savvy and web friendly. Hmmmm....

I think we need to look at technology from a new angle. We have let it overtake most aspects of our lives yet we don't really kick back and think about the implications its influence has over our culture, our habits, our work, our environment, and even our education. Most people I talk with (and I don't just mean students) complain that they are "swamped", "run off their feet", "overwhelmed", and just plain "exhausted".

If we are so busy, where do we find time to enjoy a good read? Enjoy a good play? Conversations with friends over a glass of wine? I suspect many of us don't get enough of that richness that makes life something to savour. I know I feel constantly frustrated that I can't keep up, while wishing I could sink my soul into a delicious novel. It is a constant battle. A good friend of mine says that IT people refer to it as "change fatigue". I really like this term. If only I could put it to good use.

Where does this leave libraries, museums and, even, archives? We leave so little time for reflection and exploration. Are these institutions immune to our growing distractions? I fear that I have more questions than answers!


Unknown said...

I've found one of the secrets is consolidation. For example, by using the RSS option to bring content to me as opposed to navigating to fifteen different pages, I can spend less time 'surfing' and more time reading and enjoying. It's about making the technology work for us, instead of letting it take over.

(On that note, would you be opposed to me setting up a LiveJournal feed with the RSS from here? If so, I understand).

I wonder if the problem for libraries isn't a little bit of a branding one. People go to Starbucks for the coffee and the wireless. A lot don't even know that libraries offer free wi-fi as well. Like you said, there isn't the perception that libraries are tech-friendly.

It may be interesting to see what happens, less in the view of technology, and more in the view of economic boom and bust. When times are tough, more people seek escapism and less can afford to pay for it. It's possible that economic hard times will lead to people 'rediscovering' the simple things like reading a good book (free from the library!) or just hanging out and talking with friends.

Even if all three of those are online, a nice quiet library with the free wi-fi is a good place to do it from. More peaceful than the coffee shop.

John Kemp said...

I'm interested in the idea of disposable time. What has changed that people don't feel they have the time to read a novel or go see a play etc.? Is it possible that as we move forward toward some kind of economic fairness throughout the world, we in the west, historically wealthy, are feeling the effects of a 'loss' of wealth (wealth in this context being only possible when someone else doesn't have it), and therefore the loss of free time?

Before the European wars of the last century, there was for many generations an elite class of people, who were predominantly the people who read books and went to plays. After the wars, the whole landscape of classes changed and, especially in North America, there was an unprecedented time of wealth. Along with wealth comes disposable time and the rise of arts and culture. For a generation or two there was a large middle class that could still be wealthy (in the sense of having more than was needed) with only one adult supporting a small family unit. Now it is uncommon for only one spouse to work. Now, work that was done by an unpaid spouse (childcare, food preparation, etc.) is in many more instances paid work.

Businesses are open much longer hours. Many more people fly off to Mexico or some other exotic place every year. We want it all and we want it now. But we pay for these things in ways far beyond dollars.

The world is moving faster and faster. If one slows down to savour life, one is left behind. (Think of the popularization of the 80's word 'slacker'.) The only people who aren't faced with exhaustion from the pace are the very rich, or the contented poor.

On top of that, there is the deterioration of the primary needs of human life. Air quality, water quality, food quality. How can we have energy if we are unhealthy? And of course there is the emotional and psychological exhaustion of living and working in a system that is not tailored to the quality of human life.

What we had was the opportunity to develop a framework of culture and institutions that supported it. What we have lost is the understanding that wealth is nothing by itself, and certainly nothing to be chased for its own sake, but is only valuable as a tool to build culture.

In my opinion, I'm hearing far too much lately about libraries being suppliers of information. So much information in this age is useless information. We are all familiar with the term 'information overload'. The challenge is to be able to ignore information which is not pertinent. Years ago, there was such a dearth of information that it was extremely valuable. Now it has become just another abused substance. We have become gluttons of information.

I was so relieved to hear a recent speaker talk about a library's 'brand' being books. And how it is perhaps time to rethink the effort to move away from that brand.

Certainly the issues are huge and the stakes have never been higher. And our choice of which direction to take is extremely important.

I would like to stress the importance of libraries as the guardian of culture. Of ideas. More conservative (in this purpose) than any right wing political party could hope to be.

Specifically, a library must be the bastion of the idea that gives it life, that culture is more important than money. (There is a lot of weight on the word 'culture' in that sentence, I want to use it in a less used sense -- culture as maturity, development of self, wisdom... fulfilling one's potential as a human being.)

Certainly information is important. One could even argue that what is in books is information. But I say that not all information is valuable. Too much information is like eating too much food, and on top of that is the danger of not enough nutritious food.

What we must value is wisdom. Information that supports that idea, or enhances wisdom, is invaluable. And any information that doesn't point the way to wisdom has no value.

Usually it takes time to tell the difference. Some books stand the test of time. Any library's collection of information must be based around these books.

Teresa Hansen said...

As a proponent of technology, I believe libraries have a chance to redefine themselves.

E-books, Internet access, web sites, and online articles all offer one opportunity for branding.

The services are there, but they have not been effectively communicated. Only current library users are aware of their existence.

Christina Neigel said...

Leanne, I am very ok with a RSS feed.

Information do we deal with it? Perhaps one of the roles of the library (in addition to is being the bastion of culture) is to help people develop filters.

It is rather ironic (in my mind) that the explosion in information has made it all the more reasonable to have repositories of carefully selected materials. It is almost as though we have come full circle where the overabundance of "information" has made us incapable of effectively finding things without assistance.

John Kemp said...

That's why we need more library technicians! ;)

anita said...

The comment about no time to read is an interesting one. I found that when I had small children at home I had no time to read books (unless we were on a short holiday) so I had lots of magazines. Those I could read in snatches. I find the same thing happens now with video games. I would enjoy taking the time to read a book (I keep buying them) or play a long game but I keep to the short ones because that's what I can 'fit in'.l

Allowing myself to have enough time to read for a period of time, play a game (my Monday night treat) or go out to a play are things that I have to book time to do. But in today's busy world they are really important. Everyone's mind needs a stress break, even if it's a game of solitaire or reading a couple of columns on clutter control.

Genevieve said...

I try and make it a point to always have a book to read, despite my text book quota for reading and studying. It's one of the important things that library's have always promoted: read, please read. They just haven't learned yet to promote to the public the many new ways to enjoy books from the libary.