Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Librarianship’s dance with technology.

Since I began working on my MLS degree, I have been learning about and observing the “dance” between librarians and technology. I’ve learned how library professionals were among the earliest groups to grasp the implications of the power of the computer to make their work easier and more efficient. Those early pioneers of technology diligently strove to learn the “steps” for each new dance and partner, from character-based systems up to today’s graphic user interfaces (GUI). Now, with the evolution of the web from a venue for presentation of skilled craftspersons, to a platform for creative expression and self-publication, librarians have a wealth of new dances and partners to choose from. The necessity of “dancing” regularly with one’s partner(s) at work – ILS, WorldCat, and others from the alphabet soup of familiar “faces” – need not dampen the fun and excitement of spending every spare moment learning how to “dance” the “FaceBook”. As I read magazines, blogs and books praising every new technology, it seems that some librarians (often, but not exclusively younger) flit, whirl and leap from one partner to another, building an enormous repertoire of steps and experiences that would leave a less-savvy person exhausted and dizzy. If one changes partners quickly and frequently enough, it appears as though it would be easy to ignore the shortcomings – smashed toes, bruised shins, etc. – of each dance and partner.

But in the excitement of all that’s new, it is very important to stop and take the time to find out if there are undesirable aspects to these new technologies that are subtle, and unobtrusive. Dancers (in my experience, mostly women) have had to put up with, or walk away from, inappropriate touch and behavior from their dance partners (in my experience, mostly men). When a group of individuals join a dance, it can influence the quality and mood of the entire activity. Does welcoming such a large group of new dance partners to the library “dance party” enrich the experience for our patrons and us, or detract from it? I do not intend to promote any form of conspiracy theory here, but companies exist that do “data mining,” the gathering of large amounts of information about as many people as possible. If “knowledge is power,” as the saying goes, what personal power are we giving away when we make ourselves so intimately known to all of these different forms of technology? In another situation, would we choose to make available to any number of strangers the same information/power about ourselves? Knowing the answers to these questions is critical, and will help us to determine whether the excitement of dancing with a new partner is worth the risk.


Mary Alice Ball said...

Very thought provoking post, Todd. Maybe it's because of the reflection assignment but you all seem to be thinking deep thoughts this week. I do think it's important for librarians and technologists to be aware of the implications of our work in order to protect those we serve.

Sue said...

I think the group dancing with technology is a natural part of its evolution. Some will benefit while others will not. Collectively, we will learn what works and what doesn't. What would be very good is for the information scientists in the library science field to help distill/filter the vast sea of new technological stuff so that what could hurt the vulnerable out there is thwarted. Any new thing will have to grow wiser with time, though. I mean, look what hackers did (do?) before the collective collaborated to put them out of business.