About two weeks ago, David Lee King and Michael Porter debuted their Library 101 video at the Internet Librarian 2009 conference. This video and accompanying Library 101 website rippled through the librarian blogosphere, attracting both very positive and very negative comments. With this post, I’d like to share why I support them and encourage those who spoke out against it to consider re-examining their opposition.
First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the video. Is the video production great? In comparison to your average YouTube video, I would say that it was certainly better than its budget would indicate. It’s not Hollywood, but for their monetary and time limitations, they made the most of it. I don’t think there are many librarians out there (even more so in this past year) who don’t know what it is like to create something when you are given a tiny (even non-existent) budget. And while that’s not something the video raises, I does bring out my empathy for it on that measure. Is it too long? For most people (including me), yes. As much as the costume and music format changes were amusing, it stretches the video to the point where the length overrode the core message of the lyrics. And as to the lyrics, well, it ain’t Bob Dylan. But if you actually read the lyrics, they push a broader picture of a library integrating technology into existing services. I don’t subscribe to the whole dire predictions of “evolve or die” (nor, for that matter, to the whole “Print is Dead” bucket of crap), but I can understand the lyrics as they relate to libraries and library professionals that are resistant to technological integration. (I can think of a few colleagues within my own library system who are, in fact, resistant to using any sort of technology application beyond the automation system. I’m not grasping this out of the ether.) To me, technological integration of the library is inevitable because that’s where the information is currently being stored and accessed. It reminds me of the quote commonly (and falsely) attributed to Willie Sutton when asked why he robbed banks: “because that’s where the money is.”
And I never, ever thought I would ever hear that enthusiasm was a negative quality in any profession. Anecdotally, I’m sure anyone who reads this post can think of an instance they were helped by someone who loves what they do and how it made them feel as a customer. Those are the stores and services that people go back to because of the way it made them feel; not simply because they got what they were looking for in a professional manner, but because people are happy to be in that job. Hell, there are many studies showing that a positive attitude makes a difference in people’s lives. While enthusiasm is independent of competence, the presence of enthusiasm with competent help can create the memorable customer experience that makes people want to come back to us rather than other venues. In the current social and retail environment, that impression can make or break you in the long run. While the enthusiasm quality may not “move” certain Library 101 critics, it will “move” your customers in guiding their future decisions.
And while we are on the subject of enthusiasm, there is no time like the present for a little pep on behalf of libraries. Right now, libraries need cheerleaders. Let’s face it; it’s been a crappy year for library funding. (See also Ohio; Pennsylvania; Connecticut; Washington; Massachusetts; Illinois; and Michigan, to name a few.) This has not been a banner year for morale of the profession; and, quite frankly, the profession as a whole has few charismatic figures to it. We could certainly use more people coming out in favor of the library in a positive and boisterous manner. I don’t see anything wrong with (as Meredith Farkas put it) something that energizes the base to step up and take action on behalf of libraries both local and national.
A possible counter argument to this point would say that this doesn’t qualify as cheers for the profession and that it was a mistake in the first place. I find that such a counterpoint denies the underlying exuberance that the creators (Michael and David) have for the profession; it is also limiting as it judges them solely on the basis of one project rather than a career of advocacy.
And as the video is one component of the overall Library 101 project, let us examine the essays section. Perhaps the term ‘essay’ is a misnomer for some of the submissions, but they do offer personal takes on the kinds of skills and paradigms that libraries should have now and in the future. Or, for a better description, a collection of entries by well respected online library professionals describing what they feel are the basics of the libraries of the present and the future. For myself, these entries act as a barometer of thought as common themes emerge (such as customer service and technology) as well as food for thought about my own place in my library, my system, and the greater library universe. The points contained within this section cultivate an inner dialogue, challenging the reader to accept or reject the premise and support their viewpoint. How exactly, pray tell, is this sort of self examination a bad thing? According to David in his post, Library 101 is intended to start these kinds of conversations.
Some of the conversations have been around the 101 Resources & Things to Know (RTK), the third aspect of the Library 101 project. It is an ambitious list of a hundred skills and tools that Michael and David believe librarians should be aware about. Yes, it is very long; yes, there are some hazy points; but what cannot be denied is that it acts as a beginning step or pathfinder for people to further explore these skills and tools. Perhaps not all of the listed and linked items will interest a reader, but even if there is one discovery, it represents something new to that person. I highly doubt that it was the intent of Michael and David to turn every librarian into a techno-jargon spewing 2.0 web savvy librarian. The appeal of the list is far more basic and primal, reaching out to the sense of curiosity that resides in us all. To me, the denial every item of the list and offering of no additions is to say that they is nothing new or interesting in the middle of the largest information explosion in the history of mankind. That’s inconceivable and unacceptable.
My primary reason for supporting Library 101 is that project, in its distilled essence, is about people. Those who work in libraries, those who visit libraries, and all of the supporting efforts that go into making a library work. The culmination of each aspect is to make better librarians and library professionals out of all of us: enthusiastic, tech savvy, and more people friendly. I feel that the project works because, by increasing the skills or offering a new idea to just one person at a library, you are increasing the knowledge base of the whole organization. This positive attitude and information is not simply locked to the individual, but can be passed on to other members of the staff. It reminds me of the saying by George Bernard Shaw:
If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
(So long as we are talking about information passing, I first saw that quote as part of the signature line from Peter Bromberg’s emails.) Knowledge is the greatest transferable human commodity. And the Library 101 project celebrates this fact. And for that reason, as well as the reasons listed above, I support the Library 101 project.
And so should you.
 Print is not dead, but the business model is. If you really want to insist on print being dead, send over your library’s storytelling program where the librarian reads a kid’s book from a Kindle or Nook or Iliad or whatever. And if the kids react to the screen the same way they do to a print book, then I will believe it.
 If someone wants a more concise, web 2.0, digital native take on the criticism of Library 101, here it goes:
Welcome to the internet, nub.
Really? A bad video on the internet? ORLY? NO WAI.