I love social media. When I was conducting musical organizations more than I am now, I loved the fact that I could corner a composer (assuming that he was still living) and ask very specific questions about how they envisioned their works to be performed. A number of wonderful relationships grew out of those interactions. This week was a particularly good week in my learning about issues around the world of libraries. Through reading Cory Doctorow’s blog, I watched a great panel discussion that Doctorow participated in, Tweeted about it and had a brief interaction with another one of the panelists. From there, I picked up a book that was mentioned in the discussion (and was already on my to-read list) and got reading. A second Tweet generated interest from one of the book’s authors, Sam Ford. One comment in particular got me very curious.
The book is Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. The authors are Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. Ford’s comment was, “Librarians in particular are a context we’ve been talking/thinking about since writing the book.” I thought that, rather than wait until finishing the book to write a review piece, I’d interact with the book as I go along. I purposely didn’t ask Ford about what the discussion has been as I want to interact with the text first and digest their full arguments. I’m not interested in “plot-spoilers.” But I am interested in wrestling with ideas as I go. And I am interested in having conversations about those ideas.
First, some context. The introductory idea in the book is a comparison of the idea of “stickiness” in contrast to “spreadability” in terms of media. Comercial enterprises are interested in “stickiness.” They want people to be attracted to their web presence and they want people to spend time on their pages. They measure numbers of hits to their site and the length of time spent on each page as indicators of successful marketing. In contrast, a Web 2.0 culture tends to be more interest in the degree to which ideas are shared. The need for a person to spread the ideas presented by the content creator is the indication of success. Of course, this is much harder to measure. This then leads to a discussion of how we value products in a networked world. There is much discussion of commodities being those “things” that have a financial value attached to them and how much of a “things” value is monetary and how much of the value lies elsewhere. I’m not going to present a “Spark’s Notes” version of the book, but that much should whet your appetite and give you a little understanding of where I am going.
My interest then is, what does this mean to libraries? Do we care about sitckiness and spreadability? In a school library (K12) in particular, does this impact how we function? I would argue yes, the impacts are significant. The library world has very much been one interested in stickiness. We want to find that one, perfect book that will answer a patron’s questions in the best way possible. We want that book to circulate constantly. The circulation aspect looks like spreadability, and it is, to an extent. But it is not the same kind of spreadability as we see in a networked world where patrons can take those ideas, work with them, turn them into something new and share them back out again. This is spreadability in it’s most restricted sense.
So, if spreadability is the ideal, how does this affect our collections? Or, does it make our collections obsolete? I have a vested interest in saying that it doesn’t make them obsolete (I need to put a roof over my family’s heads), but we do need to think about what we are doing. Is there a value in having “a collection?” How do our patrons interact with that collection?
I think that collections are still critical. A collection is a curated grouping of resources that has particular value to a community. It is physical and digital. Both expressions encourage different ways of working with the media content that have value. Physical books offer a deep, lengthy, uninterrupted flow that is a unified expression of an author’s ideas. Digital media encourage instant connectedness that sometimes means less depth, but more connection between ideas across multiple resources. Digital media also encourage the easy reworking of ideas and sharing of these new expressions.
A library’s role is then to curate a blended collection of physical and digital media. It needs to understand it’s community and understand everything that is available to bring together a collection that addresses that community’s needs. A library is more than simply a budget that can by more books than most individuals ever could. It is a community specific, curated collection that helps to make the information search process easier. In digital terms, it is not everything available on the internet. Everyone has that on their smartphones. It is a curated collection of the internet that streamlines the search process for it’s users. One could argue that Google already does this. It collects way too much information about me and feeds me information that it thinks I want to know. I would argue that the library has the potential for doing that better. It can give you ideas that are outside of what your Google profile tells you you want to see. It can present you with arguments against your normal thought patterns and it can do so anonymously.
In the school specific situation, another pieces is added to the library’s role in a networked world. The idea of value being something other than a dollar figure ascribed to an object says something very specific about how we teach the ethical use of media. It is one thing to say to a student, “you stole that piece of information and the author is now robbed of the opportunity to make a living at what she is good at.” It is another to encourage them to credit their sources and provide links to the original source as much as possible. One approach says, “Don’t use that information, it’s not yours.” The other says, “Use the information. Make something new. But make sure that you acknowledge those that have put at least as much effort into creating what you used as you have.” The school librarians need to be advocates for ethical use of information. They need to be aware of the issues surrounding that use and teach their students as much as they can about those ethics and issues. The laws have not caught up and they are likely to continue to change for quite some time, but if a student is armed with ethics, they will have a better understanding of how to deal with the laws as they develop.
I will continue to post as I progress through the book and welcome interaction as I go. Sam, please feel free to correct me if I’ve misunderstood the book’s premises!