SunSpec: Serious Conversations Are Serious Business

Where do all the serious conversations and discussions happen in librarianship? Because from what I have heard or read, I have been told where they are NOT happening.

They are not happening on Facebook or Twitter because not every librarian is on Facebook or Twitter. They are not happening at conferences because the state ones are generally once a year (with perhaps a small conference or two between) and the ALA ones are twice a year; the lack of frequency disqualifies them from being venues for serious discourse. They are not happening on the library blogosphere because of smaller readership (a nod to the ‘not everyone is online’ business) and furthermore run the risk of building an echo chamber for online librarians. And the list goes on for trade publications (not everyone reads them), professional organizations (not everyone belongs), and your own library (a microcosm).

So, where is the magical platform, venue, location, or event that grants enough quorum so that any discourse arising from it can be deemed meaningful?

I’m a bit tired of hearing or reading utterances as to why certain types of conversations or discussions are not “serious” ones because of some factual yet irrelevant observation as to the participants present or missing. This marginalization of any kind of dialogue because it’s not in the perfect setting is simply counterproductive and (for lack of a better term) pathetic. I don’t know what to say beyond that I’m exasperated by the mythical barriers that seem to magically appear wherever something serious and/or important is broached as a topic.

So, where do all the serious conversations and discussions happen in librarianship?

16 thoughts on “SunSpec: Serious Conversations Are Serious Business

  1. This is a great post–I experienced some exasperation last week when talking with an individual who strongly dislikes Twitter and got very worked up when I mentioned that it’s a great place to network and to share with other librarians. His response: ‘It’s self-selective, because you’re only reaching other Twitter users.’
    Well, yes. But that’s true of any communications technology. I can’t reach other librarians using my telephone if they don’t have a phone number. It would be great to find a way to switch our focus from who’s missing from a conversation to what that conversation can accomplish. Social media/blogging isn’t for everyone, but a lot of us are using it and I’ve probably seen more constructive discussion (with a more diverse array of LIS professionals) take place on Twitter or blogs than anywhere else. Just because every single one of us isn’t involved doesn’t take away from the value of what’s being said, and surely we can find a way to share those thoughts and get insight from the ‘not online’ crowd at our jobs or schools.

    • Maybe it’s a question as to where the lines of communication go after they get through a group. If they just stop at the proverbial border (like, within a library or in a Facebook group), then they really are limiting in their impact and outlook. Perhaps it is a matter of how many circles on the Venn diagram a person communicates with…

  2. I completely agree with Julia. Outside of the interactions I have with classmates, Twitter is my go-to forum for professional development. Not everyone is there, but I’ve found plenty of people that are very engaged and that either post or link to great content. Whether or not those discussions and exchanges of ideas lead to anything is another issue to explore, but the discussions themselves are happening.

    • I think it’s more of a matter of looking for crossover communication: meaning, the people on Twitter talk to the people on Facebook or in their local library associations.

    • For outrage, sure. I would have liked to get more comments on non-outrageous blog posts, though. Perhaps the problem is that they are episodic; they take an issue, run with it, then put it down. While I have had posts that I have come back to, they are few and far between. Or maybe blogs aren’t the best platform for that kind of sustained engagement. (FriendFeed can be, but some of those threads can get long and confusing.)

  3. Twitter, absolutely. It’s where stories seem to break first, where you get a quick survey of reactions and possibilities. I also enjoy piecing the story together on Twitter, which can be a really interesting way of following the news. Not only do I end up running into blog posts I would have normally read through my Google Reader, I also discover new blogs and voices more quickly. Being unemployed the last few months and a little disconnected from the library day-to day (hopefully that’s changing soon), Twitter has been a godsend.

    There is no single magical platform, nor should there ever be. I’m sure it will change in the near-ish future, but for now, Twitter is where it’s at. I think its real strength is that it’s a slightly different experience on each platform, be it web, phone, iPad or other device.

    • It’s an excellent discovery method, no doubt. As I am going through the comments and replying to them, I think it’s a matter of the crossover appeal or takeaways that is of concern. You and I can talk all we want and shoot ideas back and forth; it’s another thing if I take an idea back to the workplace or committee and make use of it.

  4. Whomever is complaining about this does not have much of an understanding of cultural dissemination or even information theory.

    The only time a “community commons meeting” works is small small and localized levels. What happens instead is that one group meets, then a member of that group wanders off to tell her friends what was talked about at the meeting. Then someone shares with her what he heard at a separate meeting (maybe, at the pub!), and they each take that information both backwards and forwards in their interactions with others.

    Expanding that idea to social networking is a pretty obvious leap, I think. Not everyone is on twitter, and not everyone is a member of the ALA think tank on FB. But some people – there only needs to be one – belong to both, and “translates” across boundaries.

    It only takes one reader of an extremely obscure blog to share its ideas on twitter, where the idea is then taken to FB, where someone then brings it to the next ALA chapter meeting.

    The IMPORTANT thing is to encourage the dissemination, and listen to each other. They are all serious and it is derailing the conversations taking place to label them as fringe.


  5. Perhaps because I’m so old, I had an entirely different reaction to this post. I read it as a need for real thoughtful conversation, not dissemination of bits of information, a la Twitter. I think social media is terrific to get news item out.
    But, as a former philosophy major, I find there is no venue for exploratory thought and conversation. And, I have tried to remember if there ever was (I had my M.L.S. since 1979 – full disclosure) and cannot recall that occurring. That’s a weakness, I believe. We can react – to censorship challenges, to huge funding cuts, to publishers changing the rules of use – but we are not clear, as a profession, about the ideas and values that we represent and promote. And, that’s a pity.
    I do believe that Twitter is valuable, as are Facebook, blogs, etc. But, think about how many people might have read this post and how many shared an idea. And, each post is not really a conversation. What to do, what to do?

    • An interesting take on my post, Cindy. And I think there is a kernel of truth to that observation. That we can react to fundamental principles with the ease of a united front but when it comes to other issues and other conversations?

      Well, not so much.

      Off the top of my head, I’d say it is the profession’s inclination towards non-confrontation and inclusion that makes the tough conversations hard to have. I think we need a reminder that dissent is not dislike and that as we represent all views in our collections so can we in harboring divergent views. Maybe that’s why conversations outside of core values fizzle.

      On the other hand, I prefer to imagine that if my ideas can change the mind of one person, they can maybe pay it forward to more people. Perhaps it is a byproduct of my own professional approach (that I am helping one person at a time, that I am changing one life at a time), but I like to think that the pond has ripples to it. 😀

  6. Do you think that a potential problem is that there are too many different places to speak or hear about issues in the field? There are many great bloggers out there writing about ideas and ideas dealing with the library world, but since there are so many it seems to displace the readers. Could there be too much of a good thing? Or is there just not enough?

  7. It’s a tricky, but perhaps one of the most essential questions you pose here, Andy. Perhaps the most important question, after “What, exactly, is a librarian?” in the sector. If librarians don’t know where the conversations are “happening”, or even worse, think they are not happening, it’s kinda not good.

    I don’t have an answer, trite, profound or otherwise.

    The twitter observations, above. I’m doing a year off from tweeting with a few caveats, for various reasons. I’d say, two months in, that it’s pretty much impossible for anyone to avoid tweets/twitter (not quite the same thing) and confidently claim that they are part of the “essential conversation” about issues library, or that they get timely alerts or updates on breaking library issues. So am in the odd position of not tweeting, but defending twitter to sceptical librarians and info professionals.

    Also – disagreeing strongly with Cindy on “And, each post is not really a conversation.” No, that’s not true, literally or otherwise. A post grows as a conversation as comments are added. And the author can edit, add to, link from the post as time goes on. If anything, a post is an enhanced conversation as someone, anyone, can come in at any time, see the entire back history of the ‘conversation’ and participate with this full knowledge.

    High-profile blog posts that are repeatedly enhanced and commented on, and augmented and publicised through twitter, are the nearest form of the best media of conversation. For me, anyway.

  8. John,
    I completely value interchanges like this, but they are not, in my mind, conversations. When there is a face to face meeting, some people talk (usually the same people) and some do not – not everyone is comfortable chiming in. The same thing happens for tweets, blog posts and what have you. There are more people sitting silent than participating.
    At least in a meeting, you see people’s reactions, some of them have conversations afterward, etc. So, yes, you and I are “talking” – and hello out there to those of you who are watching what develops. I know it’s the only way to engage a wider range of people, but that doesn’t mean that substantial ideas are fully explored. However, news does travel faster.
    Hhhm, a conversation about conversations?

  9. Some real conversations (beyond Tweets) occur elsewhere, such as still active librarian listservs (remember those? one surviving example is DIG_REF), pre-Twitter and pre-FaceBook blogs (such as LiveJournal librarian communities), and LinkedIn librarian groups. However, I don’t think there is a single, primary source of such conversations.

    rcn in San Francisco Bay Area

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