Monday, April 28, 2008

Mentors in Librarianship

Monday, just before bud break

My commute is about to change, I hope for the better: I'm moving. 

Alongside the excitement of going to a new place is sadness for the things I'm leaving behind, including a number of really inspiring librarians I've worked with. 

I've received an incredible amount of encouragement and advice from my co-workers, and it leaves me feeling humble and blessed, and even a little teary-eyed. Not every profession has such a rich well of mentors. And I guess it may be partly due to the unfortunate 'graying' of the profession, but all I can do is be thankful that these people exist to guide me along my way. 

I know I'll never be able to thank them enough, and the best I can do is commit myself to doing the same for a younger generation when I'm the one with many years of experience in the field. But I'm so moved at the outpouring of support I've received so far that it reinforces the feeling that I've chosen the right career path. I've known for a while that librarianship is a community-oriented profession, but it's taken me until now to understand how that effects me. 

I really, really appreciate it. 

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Modern Collections

(magnolias in bloom, downtown Ithaca)

Another thing that has been puzzling me for a while about libraries is the impossible responsibility they once had for collecting everything. There is even now a heavy dread about library collections in terms of missing something crucial or relevant. In the past it was probably really comforting to think that most critical information was found right there in the library. But how impossible is that now? We're relying on the caches of search engines to do a bunch of that work. All that physical collections can do is keep up with what comes out in print, and as more and more things aren't printed anymore, librarians can just try and keep track of where they go.

And I think the idea of a collection will have to be revised: no longer so utilitarian, the objects taking up space in a collection will be monuments or somehow final versions, rather than living works in process or revised editions. What I mean is this: it's easier, cheaper, and faster to make revisions and updates online, so that when the effort is made to create a book there must be some finality to it. This doesn't mean there won't be books to add to the collection, but that the books will be different and so the collection itself will be different.

This may be unclear. I'll have to think about it more.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The dark side of third spaces?

A stomach bug will distract even the most devoted blogger, so after a rough weekend I'm going to keep this short:

This week I finally got around to watching the Frontline documentary "Growing Up Online," which is actually available for viewing online, and I'm seeing the dark side of online communities as third spaces.  Although I'm able to cut through some of the paranoia about teenagers discovering themselves online, a legitimate point is that members of a community can turn against each other, and for better or worse, people say things online that they wouldn't say in person.   

I don't think this completely negates the idea of online community as a third place, but it adds another dimension. Also, the documentary focuses on adolescents, a notoriously fickle group that does not necessarily commit to a third place in the way an adult does. 

But a third place is somewhere appealing where you are welcomed rather than harassed, and an online community can only be a third space where this holds true.  And I do think that most online communities are positive environments, or people wouldn't be attracted to go there. But it's interesting to think about how the equation could go wrong.  

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Third Places Online

TC3's "Learning Commons"

I'm not starting a new conversation here, but read these excerpts from Ray Oldenburg's 1989 The Great Good Place:

"The individual may have many friends, a rich variety among them, and opportunity to engage many of them daily only if people do not get uncomfortably tangled in one another's lives." (p.22)

"Third places exist on neutral ground and serve to level their guests to a condition of social equality. Within these places, conversation is the primary activity and the major vehicle for the display and appreciation of human personality and individuality. Third places are taken for granted and most have a low profile. Since the formal institutions of society make stronger claims on the individual, third places are normally open in the off hours, as well as at other times. The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people's more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting from the home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends." (p.42)

Oldenburg was writing about physical spaces outside of work and home (the first two places), but to me the third place he's describing is facebook and myspace and all the other online communities where people go to socialize and goof off.

At first I thought libraries could be third spaces, but they're not. At least, they shouldn't be. The space libraries provide is related to work. But librarians have been looking for a way to think about social sites, and this fits. Although the tools may have for-profit applications, the communities formed by the tools are third spaces. (Which is why facebook's decision to allow advertising to its users may be its downfall, and why 'places' that cater to the trendy crowd are similarly without a future.) 

Oldenburg laments in his book that for a variety of reasons third spaces aren't really present in American life, but here they are, alive and well.