Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here I Come Too...

In a case of me tooism I've also just finished reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. I agree with Linda and recommend that you track down a copy if you're interested in how social networking via the web is changing the way society operates. I think it has big implications for libraries - but if you've read anything I've written before you'll know that already.

I was struck at certain points throughout the book at how eloquently Shirky illustrates the impacts of technology and I thought that there was a bit too much to put into a comment on Linda's post. I think I'll create a series of posts of the next week or so, sharing some quotes and ideas from the book.

One of the main themes of the book that came through to me was that technological change can only create a revolution once the technology has become ubiquitous. Call it a paradigm shift if you like but Shirky argues that we are only just heading into the territory where the Web 2.0 tools are 'not new' and that we are only beginning to see the ways that these tools will change the way society works. He poses a lovely tech history question to illustrate his point:
Which went mainstream first, the fax or the Web?
People over 35 have a hard time understanding why you'd even ask - the fax machine obviously predates the Web for general adoption. Here's another: which went mainstream first, the radio or the telephone? The same people often have to think about this question, even though the practical demonstration of radio came almost two decades after that of the telephone, a larger gap than separated the fax and the Web. We have to think about radio and television becasue for everyone alive today, those two technologies have always existed. And for college students today, that is true of the fax and the Web. Communications tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn't create change; it has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it. It's when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming.
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. p105

Clearly Web 2.0 is not pervasive in Australian society and in the wider community of public library users yet. Some would argue therefore that libraries are wasting their time implementing services aligned with Web 2.0 as most of our users aren't using those tools.

In the early days of the web there was much talk in the library world about how this new tool - the Internet - would revolutionise library services and that we needed to be involved in how it developed and how people navigated the Information Superhighway. Then along came Google and made finding information on the Internet simple and reliable. Meanwhile, our OPACs haven't changed remarkably in the last 5-10 years. There great for finding a particular title or author but if you visit your library's online catalogue wanting a 'good book' on management the OPAC can't help. There's no relevancy ranking, no indication of what others thought about this book, no indication of what are the really seminal texts.

Somehow, despite our intentions we got left behind as a destination for people seeking information. I don't want libraries to be in that situation again. I would argue that we need to start using some new communications technologies and integrating them into our services so that when they do become invisible libraries don't disappear with them.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Thanks for reminding me of that example Martin. I guess that whole idea of "but who uses this stuff?" and "our clients won't know what we're talking about anyway" was holding me back from Web 2.0 technologies. I was a bit stuck in the here and now. But then I read that example in the book and realised that libraries have the potential to lead the way and teach others.

As an aside, I remember the first time I heard the term 'Internet'. It was in about 1993 and I was working in a medico/legal library in NZ. We had a tricky enquiry and I rang up the NZ National Library for some help. The Librarian there suggested I try 'the internet'. I went to my boss and asked her what the internet was and she didn't know either! Now the Net permeates our lives in so many different ways.