Cross-posted from Hypermarc.
I find it interesting that so much technology is beginning to move backward. By moving backward, I mean that a technology is introduced to solve a problem, the technology catches on and over time, the issue that the technology was introduced to “solve” is reintroduced. My brain-explosion (or face-palm) was when I found myself using speech recognition on my iPhone to dictate texts. I mean, texting was developed as a quick way to express short bits of conversation, synchronously or asynchronously privately. It was a replacement to the phone call. When you don’t want to actually talk to someone, either because you don’t want to get drawn into a long conversation or because you simply want to leave a message but don’t want to leave it on their voice mail, you text. The reality is that it is as easy to get drawn into a text conversation as it is a voice one and there is no significant difference between texting and speaking a message, unless there is information that needs to be kept for later reference (say, a coffee order.) So, because I’m all thumbs and I’m not as quick at texting as my daughter or students, I speak the message and hit send. How is this significantly different than calling the person?
So how does this apply to the discussions in Library 2.0? Well, it seems to me that we have developed all this cool technology to bring folks online and the Library 2.0 authors (among many others) are telling us how we can take these wonderful concepts and bring them back into our analogue lives. Participatory culture is the biggest example that seems to get touted by Casey and Savastinuk. Here we have a concept that came as a reaction to the very uni-directional web broadcast model of the 90s and early 2000s. Tired of one way conversations, folks like Tim O’Reilly developed ways of making those conversations publicly bi-directional and then community based. People were then able to build their own web spaces without having to learn to code or own their own web-servers. The communities around these blogs, wikis and any number of other platforms developed flatter communities that were happy to share publicly and contribute their own creations. Now business and education are taking these collaborative, community-based, creative concepts and applying to the offline world.
You might think that I am proposing that we are taking steps backward by saying that we are taking concepts form the digital world and applying them back to the physical one. I don’t think that this is backward at all. It is actually quite fascinating and beneficial. Technology has allowed us to put our issues in to a different context and to think about them differently. The power, often, isn’t in what technology can do, but in how it allows us to think. It is unlikely that flatter administrative structures would have caught on in business to the same degree if we didn’t have a model from the digital world to work from. Let’s face it, a top-down model favours the folks at the top. What motivation would they have to give up their power unless a flatter ideology was demonstrated and demanded from their staff and customers? We solve our problems on a global scale in a connected digital world. The application of these solutions may remain in the digital world or may come back to apply to the physical one.
How does this apply to the library? Well, certainly the line between the physical and virtual spaces will continue to blur. Not only will the way we think about how library services change to work with the coming together of the two realms, but how we think about one will increasingly inform the other. It will become, if it isn’t already, an oscillation between “if we can do x in this space, how does that look in the other?” We also see a further flattening of our hierarchy. While the lines between “staff” and “admin” get less distinct in terms of decision making and providing direction, the line between staff and user/patron becomes less distinct. Our users participate and contribute more than ever before. It is highly likely that users will be helping to build the “collection” and search systems with the staff providing the expertise to develop enough standardization to keep them easy to use. All people with a common interest in the library will be adding value by contributing time, energy, expertise and, often, content. As David Lankes has been heard saying at a local conference in December 2012 (and I’m sure many other places in his writing and speaking,) ” the community is the collection.”