26 November 2007

Something missing in Wiki-dom

Lately, I have come to think slightly differently about wikis. Initially, as a devotee of the Common Craft show's explanation of wikis, I touted wikis as the ultimate collaborative tool. I can even think back to reading an article by James Fallows in the Atlantic months ago about the lack of collaborative software and thinking, "Come on, James Fallows! It's called a wiki!"

But actually, I think that there is something missing in wiki-dom: collaboration. Over the last few months, I have set up wikis for a slew of projects with other people and no matter how much I encourage them to use it, show them the Common Craft video, or remind them that it's available...it sits. It gets forgotten.

Why is this?

I have a theory. It's called Academic Touchy Feely. Frankly, I think that there is something in the academic culture that stops us from writing over someone elses work or discarding text without making sure it is ok first. I think that if I were in a more corporate, business culture, people wouldn't hesitate to edit the wiki to create a cohesive, comprehensive, collaborative document. But in academia, or at least in my case, people don't want to type over someone else's work. So they post their ideas/corrections/additions/edits beneath it. And the wiki takes on a very untidy, unfinished, informal appearance.

So while I think the wiki has its uses, I am starting to wonder whether those uses are purely dependent on audience.

When I say it like that, it seems obvious. Perhaps you are saying, "Come on Sheck. Isn't it just like everything else?" Well, yes, I suppose so. But I thnk it is a new phase for me in my technological life. The excitement for technology is evening out (not to be mistaken for waning). I am reviewing, rethinking, rediscovering the utility of some technologies and really trying to get a sense of what works when and for who. And to consider those questions independently of exploring the technology. I am pretty excited by it, actually. It's the same, but new.

14 November 2007

YouTube as a vehicle to social change

This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and 50+ students at Champlain are recognizing it by participating in Tent City. This week-long on-campus student-led service project designed to simulate homelessness and raise money for Burlington's COTS (Committee on Temporary Shelter) program.

If you were on campus, you wouldn't be able to ignore the issue of homelessness. But what about those that aren't on campus? For that, there's YouTube.

Thanks to the ever inspiring Rob Williams for getting out there and talking to our students about this project. But more so, thanks for putting this out into the world for others to catch.

I've posted before about the value of YouTube, but it this notion of YouTube as a vehicle for social change that I think is particularly interesting and exciting. Perhaps it's the Henry Jenkins I've been reading, but the opportunity for students, or in this case faculty, to use social media as a way to increase awareness and participation without having to wait for the powers that be to come down to see the work in progress seems pretty radical, pretty exciting, and pretty 2.0 to me.

"Come on, Sheck," one might say, "look at how much ridiculous stuff is out on YouTube." Perhaps. But look at how much ridiculous stuff is on our traditional news sources as well. This reminds me of this interview I read in MIT's Technology Review with Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg. He points out that there is a wide variety of stories that come across Digg, and that it is up to users to determine what is going to be on the front page. The same is true for YouTube. During the protests in Myanmar, YouTube was a vital site for seeing what was really happening.

The same is true for its effectiveness in connecting students with homelessness at Champlain. By posting it in YouTube, we are able to archive the experience and the importance of TentCity for our students or anyone that searches Champlain College in a popular site like YouTube. If nothing else, hasn't the infatuation with reality tv and YouTube shown that we all like to be movie stars? Doesn't our highlighting it in such a way also encourage participation and demonstrate value beyond the traditional community to our students but also to the homeless community in Burlington? Isnt' that taking us further down the road to awareness and action and social change?

12 November 2007

Librarians as Heroes of Culture

Since coming back from Italy last week (and yes, it was a wonderful trip), I have been struggling to come up with a blog post. I went to the board meeting at the Fletcher Free and was thankful, yet again, that I was in an academic library (largely because I don't have the patience to deal with such funding fiascos). Yes, I am eagerly reading Elaine's posts about iDMAa and am sad, though not sorry, that I could not attend their conference last week. No matter how great it was, Puglia was better.

But nothing felt worth posting about.

And then....tonight, over dinner, I was reading the Sunday NYT Book Review and came across this review for "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read." But the review could be called "Why Librarians are Amazing." Jay McInerney, whose book on wine I checked out of the library recently for Jon, highlights the "hero" of Baynard's book: the librarian. He discusses how librarians understand and maintain the "big picture": "the relation of books to one another - the system we call cultural literacy, which form our collective library." He goes on to say that "cultivated" people know that it is not the number of books you read but how you put them together with the ideas within the book, other books, and the world around you that counts.

Ah...it is like drinking a clean, cool, long drink of water on a hot day.

I particularly am interested in the systemization of the collective library that he talks about. It recollects an article in the NYT a few months ago about a library that abandoned classification to be more like a book store and more accessible. Wow...in searching for that piece in the Times Archive, I just found this one from yesterday discussing the issue as well. If Baynard is correct in saying that "culture is above all a matter of orientation", then I wonder whose orientation we are talking about? Is it the patron? Is it the arbitor of information, the librarian? The example in the most recent article points out that by breaking down the traditional walls, or desks, librarians have the opportunity to roam and mingle among their patrons, creating not just a more friendly atmosphere but also one where librarians can shine. Perhaps the greatest moments for me are when I help someone find what they are looking for but then we find more than that item because we are downstairs, talking about books, ideas, assignments, likes, dislikes. We are communicating and I can connect their ideas with materials. But more importantly with other ideas.

And here I am...proving his point. I haven't even read the book but I already have quite a bit to say about it.