Fight the Power 2.0: Young Turks edition

I’ve been following the ALA 2009 conference on Twitter for the last couple of days. It’s been interesting to pick up bits and pieces of people’s experience at the conference (as well as a ton of librarians to follow), but earlier today there was two tweets (here and here) from a librarian pal that grabbed my attention. (Based on the tweets around them on my timeline, I’m guessing they are regarding the ALA Council I session on Sunday morning. If I’m wrong, someone correct me in the comments.) While I was not there to listen to the remarks, I did retrieve the platform that (now) ALA President Camila Alire ran on. Here is the passage as it relates to advocacy:

The Advocacy Initiative will focus on “member-driven advocacy“ content and training – for librarians, library staff and supporters of all types of libraries. This complements ALA’s existing advocacy efforts focusing on local, state, and federal legislative advocacy. This front-line advocacy features a most critical emphasis on the competencies and content needed to advocate for the library and library needs within the library structure and within our respective communities — cities, counties, higher education environments, and schools/school districts. A Leadership Workgroup will be formed and will build out the vision, articulating both what it is and what it isn’t; identify target audiences to receive and deliver the message; and establish goals for the Initiative as well as outcomes for members. In addition, the Leadership Workgroup will create products, match delivery and content to target audiences and determine marketing and public relations to deliver content to target audiences.

There was also a mention of the formation of a “Young Turks” type of group within ALA so as to increase young librarian involvement in organization. My gut reaction to these ideas was pretty positive; to me the ALA is still an organization of mysterious purpose mentioned in passing by colleagues and friends. I’m not entirely sure what they do (the subject of debate in some library circles, so I hear), but the concept of reaching out to young librarians like myself and expanding the advocacy issue make it more appealing. In turning this over in my mind over the course of the day, the initial luster wore off. It could be my aversion to the political syntax of the passage, it could be that I somewhat uncertain as to what a “Leadership Workgroup” actually means (despite looking it up), but the passage as a whole feels a bit dated to me. I don’t presume that it excludes Web 2.0 and other technological products, but the steps listed appear to be rote marketing practices.

For me, I am still fascinated with the power of the grassroots as expressed in my first library advocacy post. The highly social and collaborative efforts of user generated content has undeniable appeal for putting current and accurate information into the hands of the end user. The virtual word of mouth was a powerful advocacy tool in organization lobbying efforts, rallies, and documenting everything from protesting patrons to signs of support. Personally, I leads me to believe that the librarians in the figurative trenches have a better gauge as to the points to emphasize in their respective debates and can tailor it to their patrons and audience. The initiative presented by ALA President Alire feels very “top down” when the library advocacy movement feels very grassroots at the present time.

However, I’m still curious enough to see how a Leadership Workgroup would take shape and what sort of proverbial seat at the table awaits my generation of librarians (in both advocacy and “Young Turks” groups). Personally, it does beg a larger question about future membership with the ALA and involvement; something that has been encouraged in the past but no attractive opportunity has arisen until now. As mentioned in “Fight the Power 2.0”, there needs to be a change in the dialogue; libraries need to be portrayed as an essential service for digital literacy in an information driven economy. Libraries are no longer a community luxury, but a population necessity.

In taking the macroscope view of library advocacy, I personally think that there is a fundamental societal flaw that needs to be addressed because it directly affects the underlying nature of our work. We need to confront the fact that we as a society in America are not serious about education. Our state and national priorities and spending habits betray us on this point, for we provide unequivocal support for education up to the point when we get the bill. I believe that we will not see widespread support for lifelong learning that the library provides if we can’t even bring ourselves to pay for the best education possible that we mandate for our children.

I will readily admit that the fixing of our educational system is far beyond me and the scope and purpose of the ALA, but more importantly I believe the cause for lifelong education is intrinsically linked with childhood/teen education. We can (and should) find allies in other national education oriented groups for the purpose of promoting this ideal. I believe we should start looking to our fellow educators and their respective organizations for alliances in the much larger picture. Surely, we cannot pretend that an effect on one education oriented institution does not have an effect on the other. Our common cause is our calling, our strength, and the requisite bond to speak as one voice in the name of education. Let us act accordingly.

To the Moon & Beyond

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

The first two sentences of this quotation by President Kennedy have been playing as a clip for some advertisement on television lately. I couldn’t care less as to what they were selling but it did compel me to go look up the full speech. In examining the full passage in which this snippet was taken, the broader motif of a rise to the challenges of the day emerges. It feels strange that the President’s words have come back to relevancy as plans are being made to go back to the Moon again.

I considered how this passage might equate to some of the challenges that are currently facing libraries, but it didn’t feel like it fit quite right within the broader sweeping vision. While the grassroots struggle to preserve public library funding is a true noble cause as it upholds the underlying principles of service and information access to all, there are questions that I still harbor about the evolution of the library. I feel the emotional currents that push the “library as a destination” community center concept. This notion is based around libraries being the last of the dwindling traditional town gathering places, a place with the familial feel of a Norman Rockwell painting. Perhaps not the temple of knowledge it was once perceived, but one where print and digital information and answers researched by a knowledgeable staff can be found. It is a teacher, it is an advisor, it is an entertainer, it is a friend; it is what the patron needs it to be. Yet we still find ourselves being defined by out of date perceptions and stereotypes as to what a library offers and stands for. We let these flourish as we choose to combat them when they arise rather than confronting them and redefining the conversation about the image of the library.

On the other hand, I can’t help but be influenced by the professional articles and conversations I’ve had about (literally) expanding the boundaries of the library into the surrounding community. The rise of Web 2.0 and mobile technology have pushed interpersonal connections and on demand information to unprecedented levels. Online resources in the form of databases and downloads have put previously inaccessible knowledge at the fingertips of the end user. Library automation, while imperfect, has released us from the most mundane aspects of collection management so as to concentrate on the customer experience. We are capable of breaking the tether of the library desk and extending our service reach into our immediate sphere of influence. Technology has freed the profession to take our services anywhere in the world, yet most still subscribe to the antiquated notion of being a passive presence, sitting and waiting to be chosen to answer like the shy smart kid in the classroom. 

So where does that leave us? How do we develop ourselves into a community destination? How do we extend beyond the confines of our buildings? How do we harness the innovations of Web 2.0 and beyond to guide and follow our patrons into the bold web future? How do we move to remain contemporary and relevant within these technology innovation cycles?

The questions presented are nothing truly new or revelatory, but are ones that we as librarians continue to struggle to address the issues they raise. Even as I write this, I wish I could offer any answers but I feel none quite suit. All I feel at this moment is a change in the direction of the wind indicating a new course to undertake. Like the space pioneers before us, it will take the combined effort of the library community to rise to the pressing challenge, to inaugurate a new phase of library evolution, and to work towards our shared information future. I will be bold and say that these concepts presented are the type that progressive librarians are working towards (and some libraries have reached in certain ways), but their much lauded success is tempered by the struggles of others. Only by lifting every library and every librarian to these lofty goals can we reach our own symbolic Moon and the universe that waits beyond. We hold within our grasp the methods and the means to make this so, to organize, to plan, and to proceed. I know there are others who hold similar thoughts in their hearts, who harbor the same desire in direction, and I urge you, “Now is the time to muster and act!” And think to yourself:

“When I look to the sky and see the future of the library in the stars, what do I see?”

I choose to work towards making the library a community destination. I choose to integrate Web 2.0 & social media and to embrace the revolution of user generated content. I choose to work towards erasing the lines of policy and perception that divide us from the people we seek to serve. That I choose these goals not because they are hard, but because they are necessary to continue mankind’s inquiry into themselves and the world around them.

I choose to go to the Moon.