ETIG Library Camp: Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West!

Now I Will Inspire You: A series of small threats and calming images

One of the things about working in a tiny adorable library is that the people who work in tiny adorable libraries don’t get to go listen to people talk about libraries and big issues.  And so most people want to think that all technology in libraries is Norman Rockwell, with Apple laptops.  There’s no screaming, no fighting, no complicated vendor restrictions, no porn, no getting scammed by people on the internet… the challenging and fascinating horror show of teaching people about the internet in tiny adorable libraries is invisible in our Norman Rockwell version of library technology.

And library technology is very different in small libraries.  “I’m singlehandedly putting stickers into all of those books, and they’ll be up and running in a Koha catalog in…. 2020? I’m aiming for August, but…”  The reality looks like this.  People who aren’t online are all not online in different ways.  Lack of resources – money, wiring, knowledge, experience, time, mobility – limit who can get online.  The digital divide is real, and our system for technology education scales very badly.  There are economies of scale in most library work – processing 30 books does not take 30 times as long as processing one book – but teaching 30 people about the internet and computers takes 30 times longer than teaching one person.  Libraries have become the social safety net for many Americans to learn what the tech-savvy think of as remedial technology skills, but the project doesn’t scale.

So how do libraries teach this kind of thing, when there are no economies of scale?  Using web pages to teach people does. not. work. when they’re not computer savvy.  And sometimes you’re not fighting against a lack of tech knowledge; sometimes it’s an emotional issue with computing in general.  With this particular user population, design is invisible until it fails.  Computers are easy until they fail.  The 2.0 technology wave is intuitive until it fails.

Context matters: Not “it’s easy”, but “I think you can learn this”.  New Yahoo users wonder why Yahoo thinks they’re fat, since the first thing they see is an ad for weight loss.  Fast and disappearing messages for errors don’t appear for people who read from top to bottom and right to left and start at the beginning and read to the end.  Given these contexts, the internet is a hurdle for people – a hurdle they have to get past to connect to their grandchildren, apply for jobs, etc. – and they’re suspicious of people who love it, and they don’t have an innate idea of “friends” online or “internet famous”.  “We are living in a future that they are not that interested in.”

“Does anybody really understand The Cloud?  I need ten words to explain The Cloud to beekeepers.”

Librarians need to be SpiderMan.  We have great power, and great responsibility.  We must teach with grace and compassion.

ALA Emerging Leaders… “people go in but never come out.  I mean, they don’t die, but there’s radio silence around it.”  So someone did a survey, asking about experiences and transparency.  One result was that people felt they had been asked their opinion simply to be asked for an opinion… but that the data was never going to be used.  LibQual: you do it, you get a crapton of data, and then what happens?  Nothing?  Whose fault is that?  Ours?  Why?  We take all that energy, and do nothing with it.

Library Camps are a chance to take that energy and do things with it.  It’s a chance to create sleeper cells of librarians who can figure out what we should be talking about and what we could do with that information, and then take it back home with them.  “Personally, not a manifesto-type, but I’m glad that my posse contains people who write manifestos.  And I’m not a hand-holding type, but I’m glad my profession has hand-holders in it.”  Until we start having conversations about our personal professional experiences, beyond our much loved 140 characters, we can’t know enough.  Learn enough.  Understand enough.  Do enough.

“Librarianship both is and is not sexy.  Exploit that.  Go be secretly awesome.  Then tell someone.”

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