A Love of Libraries

I have some questions for the library professionals out there:

1. Why did you decide to make a career for yourself in libraries? What is it about libraries that made you not just want to patronize them but work with them and be involved in their continuing development? It’s obvious from reading professional library journals, librarian blogs, and the comments on this blog that you all have a great love of libraries. Where does that come from?

2. Do the people who use your libraries share your love of libraries? Are they enthusiastic about the continuing use and development of libraries? Are your patrons as geeky about libraries as you are?

3. If your patrons aren’t as geeky about libraries, why aren’t they? What could we do to get our patrons as enthused about libraries as we are? How can we get library users to care as much about libraries as library professionals do?

4. Or is that even important? Do we care if library patrons are as passionate about libraries? Is it enough that they use libraries, without being geeky and enthusiastic about them?

Open the Library

I recently upgraded my laptop’s operating system from Ubuntu‘s “Dapper Drake” release to the latest release, “Edgy Eft.” The upgrade went more smoothly than the last time I upgraded (from “Breezy Badger” to “Dapper Drake”), when I had quite a few problems. I’m not anywhere close to being a topnotch Linux guy, so when I have problems with my system, I jump onto the Ubuntu discussion forums and ask for help. I usually get a quick response to my questions, and the people who have given me help have always been patient with me and my bumbling computer ways. And if the forums aren’t enough, there’s also an Ubuntu wiki, IRC channels, mailing lists, and local community groups. There are also multiple blogs where I can get news about Ubuntu and its continual development. On top of all this, any Ubuntu user can contribute ideas for how Ubuntu develops, what features and products it will have, what changes will be made.

The Ubuntu community is an open community, where anyone can participate, get questions answered, give suggestions and requests, and see how decisions are made, with many, many access points for participation. How many libraries and library associations are like this?

Linux is an open source operating system. Not only can anyone participate in Linux communities, anyone can change the programming, tweak it, which is why there are so many different distributions. Firefox is open source, too. Anyone can make an extension or theme for Firefox. WordPress is also open source, and it’s “easy to hack” (as Maire Kruppa said at Internet Librarian). Anyone can make a plugin or theme for WordPress. To quote the WordPress site, “You are also free to do whatever you like with the WordPress code, extend it or modify in any way or use it for commercial projects without any licensing fees.” The communities for Linux, Firefox, and WordPress share and spread these hacks. They make it easy for anyone to share tweaks, programs, extensions, plugins, and themes they’ve developed. How many libraries and library associations do this with their products and services?

Ubuntu’s latest release came out a couple of weeks ago. The developers (and community) are already working on the next release (“Feisty Fawn”), which is scheduled to come out in 6 months. Firefox and WordPress also release frequent upgrades. These upgrades are free (as in speech and as in beer) to all users and are announced with fanfare, not just to their communities but to the world at large. When new releases come out, people in the communities are excited, eager to start using the upgrades, even when there are glitches and bugs. How many libraries and library associations can say this about their products and services?

What if…? What if libraries offered:

  • Frequent, free upgrades in services and products, promoted widely and supported by the community (of employees, volunteers, and users);
  • Open source services and products that are easy and fun to hack;
  • An open community (of employees, volunteers, and users) that is encouraged to participate in what the library is and what it’s becoming, that trusts and is trusted by the library;
  • An enthusiastic community (of employees, volunteers, and users), fostered by the library, that is excited and positive and involved in change in the library;
  • Every possible access point for members of the community to communicate with each other, exchange ideas, share problems and successes, ask questions and get answers.

Are there any good reasons why libraries aren’t doing this right this second?

Is the Writing on the Wall?

I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when one of the Library Assistants came back and told me a man was asking for me. Was one of our regulars looking for me? Had a friend of mine stopped by to say hi? Nope. I walked out to the front and the LA pointed the man out to me. I didn’t recognize him, and he asked, “Is this Josh?” I asked what I could help him with, and he told me that he had just received an emergency phone call and needed to fly home immediately. “Could you help me get a cheap airline ticket?” he asked me. I told him there were websites where you could find and purchase a cheap ticket and gave him some URLs. “Could you actually order the ticket for me?” he asked. I told him that was outside of what we usually do. “Well,” he said, “that’s okay. I can do it myself.” Then he thanked me and left.

Now, here’s the thing: if he didn’t know who I was, if he had never met me before, why did he ask for me? Has someone put graffiti up in the bathrooms? “For help with the internet, ask for Josh.”

So Many Questions

The Librarian in Black blogging about Stephen Abram’s CLA 2006 speech:

He quoted Karen Schneider’s famous line: “The user is not broken.” We are trying to turn our users into little librarians. We should not market “information literacy” — we are calling users illiterate before they come to us for help. That does not begin that person’s experience in a good way. Over 40% of online users create their own content for the web. They are online. Where are we?

Oh, brother, YES!

That’s just the tip of the great, thought-provoking iceberg of things Stephen said. I’m sorry I couldn’t hear his talk in person. I thank my lucky stars Sarah Houghton-Jan is such a great conference blogger.