Written on April 17, 2009 by Barbara Taranto
It’s not everyday that Cliff Lynch and Dan Cohen are in the same city, let alone at the same meeting. But yesterday New York was lucky enough to have both of them in town for a one day workshop Digital Dilemmas hosted by the Metropolitan New York Library Council in association with OCLC. If you’ve every heard either of them speak you’ll know what I mean.
Cliff began the day with a birds-eye-view of the challenges in the current digital landscape – a sort of tour de force for librarians deeply entangled in the day to day struggles of information management. As usual, the 45 minutes seemed like 10 and was chocked full of Cliff’s special blend of data, anecdote and insightful allusion. He advised the audience members to think broadly about our respective vocations in relation to the communities we serve and to not reduce the discussion to the mechanics of digital activities. Libraries, he remarked, are an integral part of, and partner with their constituents and their constituents are members of a greater society. The society is changing. Learning and education are changing and consequently, the place for libraries in the society is changing.
Dan Cohen who rounded out the day, had a similar message but delivered in an entirely different manner. Dan conducted an experiment (crowdsourcing) to demonstrate information seeking behaviors and information retrieval behaviors. Dan posted an image of an artifact on Twitter and asked those who were following him whether they could identify the object. He then turned back to his presentation. Shortly after, the Twitter dialogue box kept popping up to interrupt him. His “followers” were responding. By the time he had finished discussing the ideas of the “open library” – a virtual environment where library activities occur outside the formal, professional structure – he had made his point. The community had participated in creating new knowledge and had done so in an interactive and sometimes noisy fashion. Dan’s point wasn’t that libraries are obsolete but that libraries and librarians must engage with their communities in the places that knowledge is being acquired and since knowledge acquiring behaviors are changing, libraries and librarians must change.
This is hardly bleeding edge ….. but it does warrant repeating since it reminds us that we must remain interested in the big picture as well as the minutiae. Our communities would be well served if we imagined ourselves as partners in this endeavor rather than an endangered species.
Whatever your opinion, it is well worth checking out the meeting proceeding that will be posted shortly.
Kudos to Jason Kucsma Digitization and Emerging Technologies manager at METRO for putting this together.