04 April 2007

Synthesis: 2.0

Finally time to review some thoughts from ACRL. I think an appropriate name for conference would have been "Web 2.0 and the Academic Librarian: To Be or Not to Be." Every session I went to touched on the proliferation of social networking software and the interactivity of information: great things to think about in a variety of contexts. One thing that I appreciated most about David Silver's talk (and let me shout out to David for his enthusiasm, encouragement, and for finding my blog!) was his reminding the library community that while this is an exciting time in librarianship, technology and information, it is not intrinsically revolutionary but rather an evolution. As he calls it: AEIOU (Already Existing Information Optimally Uploaded). I love the acronym. But his point is an important one for librarians to remember: technology is changing but the effort is the same as it has always been. We are here, still, to help our users find information. But that's the easy part. The hard part is the part we are still hashing out: how do we contextualize that information and actually help our users expand their knowledge. Ah, ontologies. What is information and what is knowledge? I feel like my former professor and guru brain teaser, Allen Renear, would smile at me.

What I mean is that we can choose to use and incorporate the newest technologies, otherwise known as the technology our students use. But the hard part is then helping our students see the value of those technologies, and their limitations. For example: tag clouds. While these are incredibly interesting to look at, they seem to continue to encourage students to read for breadth and not depth. Does knowing how many times a word has been used in a speech really help a student understand the context in which it was used? Does the ability to rate websites mean that you don't have to think about the bias of the reviewer or assign your own set of values to the site? Finally, does the collaborative nature of a wiki mean that you can cast aside any efforts at accountability since what you wrote will be changed anyway?

I don't know. I am thinking about, right here and at my desk and in my living room and in my classroom. These are tough questions. These are fun questions.

The Library, to remain truly germane to our students, and to maintain its viability in the soul of education, needs to expand our role. We can't stop at showing databases. We need to help our students evaluate websites but also evaluate how they now interact with them.

ACRL reminded me how many threads there are to creating a dynamic but sustainable role for the library. And I think that some people find it intimidating. But the idea of the internet was intimidating once, and look at us now. The idea of open stacks was scary once and now closed stacks are almost extinct.

To be or not to be: that is the question. And it might not be as simple as a yes or no. But it certainly is a lot of fun to think about.


david silver said...

nice post sarah.

i'm finally synthesizing my own thoughts about acrl and feel equally excited. a lot was shared and a lot was learned and i think that is the reason library conferences are my favorite: librarians share information.

it's odd, isn't it, that as the new technologies keep streaming in, they still return to that old technology: reading. maybe the key is to begin with what is fundamental - reading, literacy, comprehension - and then adding, when necessary, new technologies.

anyways, i'm glad to have found your blog. i added it to my feevy!

The Sheck said...

David, you touch on one of the topics that is nearest and dearest to my heart, and that makes me the most frightened for the future: the fate of reading. And while one might argue that students today read more than students previously, it is the comprehension part that I find disturbing. Breadth v. Depth. I think about usability testing: most people don't READ websites, they just VIEW them.

I couldn't agree with you more though that comprehension is as, if not more, essential to developing an evalutive palatte for technologies. If only I could come up with a good way to teach that. So far, I haven't had much success other than the good-old-fashioned way: help individuals find something wonderful to read and talk to them about it.

Suggestions and class ideas are always welcome from creative minds like your own!