The social manifesto

I have always quietly wanted to get in on the ground floor blogging, and always fancied myself as someone who keeps up on the latest trends (both fashionably and technologically speaking), but I also never felt I had much to say, or to put out there. It also took me a while to get over the fear of being “seen” on the internet. Granted this was all happening while I was in university, and may have been worrying about which of my parents’ friends would see me doing something untoward and could report back. This was also before the benefits of Web 2.0 technologies and having a public online persona were widely known.

But now, a few short years later, it seems strange that a second-year library student interested in the web wouldn’t already be blogging, and would not just now be starting to construct that all-but-absolutely-necessary web presence. But that is the case, and here’s why.

My goal with starting a blog in this day and age is to tackle some of the challenges that I face in library school by championing web 2.0 to a professional field that at times seems more than willing to accept it, and at times feels completely opposed to change. The feeling that by supporting social media in the library is somehow cheapening the Grand Tradition is one that is understandable, but ultimately unfounded. Rather, what this “library 2.0” is allowing us to do as information professionals is evaluate and make known technologies and resources in the library, and online (and often both!), that can help our organizations and patrons gain improved access to new information, be more knowledgable about their research and any available services, and, hopefully, even have some fun in the process.

There are some perceptions of social media and web 2.0 in the library, however, that are hindering this process.

First is the perception that those librarians who do talk about social media are advocating 100% adoption of new technologies. This is simply not the case. There may be rather eager beavers among us, and the excitement that some emerging technologies bring out can easily be read as unflinching acceptance. However, I see it as our responsibility as information professionals to be aware of and, more importantly, to be able to articulate both the potential utility of social media as well as its pitfalls. This idea has its roots in information literacy, but it is also common sense. Not every new hot trend has a place in the library, but some might. And if information specialists can’t or won’t critically evaluate them to tell you which is which, then we have problem.

The second perception is the fact that the library is still only about books. I can see and believe that nostalgia in this profession is both potent and desirable. The Grand Tradition I referred to above is necessary to continue to justify many library programs, and there is nothing, in spite of my love for new technologies, that will replace the tactile and aesthetic pleasure of a book in your hand, or the excitement of finding the call number deep in the rows of expanded shelving. Nostalgia for librarianship itself runs even deeper. The Google takeover of the research process is a real (and scary) trend indeed, and it is a trap into which it is easy to fall. However, web 2.0 is not a book killer, nor is it undermining the librarian’s mandate of ensuring access to quality information for patrons. Instead, what it allows is a broad (and often free!) outlet to spread the library’s message. When social media and web 2.0 tools are understood, consciously selected and used effectively, they have real power to create and sustain library awareness and service.

So: here I want a sounding board for thoughts about how we, as a profession, can move forward responsibly while creating and advocating a conception of library 2.0. How can we improve attitudes and perceptions of social media in the library? And how can we ensure that, as information professionals, we maintain a level of compentency in web 2.0 (and beyond) that doesn’t take away from, but instead builds upon, the traditions and tangible value of library 1.0?

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