My Trends… I know I put them somewhere

I did a rather belated, cryptic post on my personal blog, Free Range Librarian, but though it refers to something Eric brought up–a certain welcome restlessness with the state of “library automation,” to use an icky phrase, or an acknowledgement that the OPAC sucks, to be more direct–it doesn’t quite snap to the grid of what I’m trying to get across.

I’d quote from Buffalo Springfield–“Something’s happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear”–except whenever I get to the part where “there’s a man with a gun over there,” my practical librarian mind kicks in and begins worrying about guns in libraries, evacuating the premises, ducking for cover, etc.

So let me force myself to disgorge a few more random blips that might begin to frame some of my discussion this Sunday.

* An intentionally naive observation: the Web continues to increase in importance for people’s lives. (Alternatively, I think I can finally, irrevocably refute the librarian in the late 1990s who said he was just waiting for this Internet thing to blow over.) Following a small discussion list, I observed many librarians in the post-Katrina diaspora talk about using the Web to find one another, file FEMA applications, observe and analyse their environments, locate jobs, etc. Access to the Web is a life assumption. This may not seem like such a trend over a short period, but think back to 1996 and if you can, 1986.

* Another naive statement: social software environments are becoming places where people–a lot of them–hang out, and not just teen geeks. Places such as Second Life have hundreds of thousands of users. There’s even activity afoot to establish a Second Life Library. Flickr is another place where people hang out with a huge community of people with whom they have loose and strong ties. A cousin recently established a Google list for what used to be a paper letter chain; soon our entire clan was exchanging Flickr account information and swapping pet pictures. This, though most of my family members are very non-technical.

* Most new social software environments are born with social engagement features built-in, such as tagging, sharing, and the ability to create affinity groups, even the ability to refine affinity groups (family/friend/contact). Someone commented today that LibraryThing is a far more appealing environment than RefWorks. I use both, and I agree. LibraryThing is easy, friendly, and socially engaging. However more precise RefWorks may be (and there is no CitationThing alternative for organizing links to articles), the gulf between the two products to me feels exactly like the gulf between your typical library catalog and any currently popular social software.

* Attitudes toward privacy continue to soften. People seem willing to hand over a lot of personal information in order to use a service. On the other hand, some of the recent en masse thefts, such as the scandal with veteran’s data, point up how vulnerable we are becoming. For libraries that are offering online payment: how secure is your patron data?

* Recently the public intellectual/academic Juan Cole didn’t get a new job. Who cares, I hear you thinking. What is significant is that many people were shocked that his popular blog, Informed Comment, was apparently held in low esteem by the committee evaluating him for this new position. Quite a few people argued that his blog should have been weighed heavily–and favorably–in determining his fitness for this new position. This is not just an observation about blogging; it’s an observation about academia repositioning itself for public engagement through social software.

* People keep tinkering with the ebook concept; it reminds me of watching the early days of flight. Watch for Sophie, an ebook initiative from the uber-groovy Institute for the Future of the Book. Sophie 1.0 is due to be delivered at the end of August. Rather than literally translating the book to the screen, Sophie will offer engagement for the reader, so that the book is more of a conversation. If it works, Sophie could help usher in a new genre–something, like a heresy trial, that only happens every few hundred years. That’s fun! If it doesn’t work, I’ll still keep my eye on the Wright Brothers as they tinker in their shed.

* Speaking of brothers, one irritating trend is that so many of the digital pundits continue to be male. I’m not pointing fingers; I’m describing a concern about a trend that is hardly new. How we get more women to visibly engage in these debates, to be the faces on the panels, to be the voices in the aggregator–to be shameless hussies, as I’ve said in other contexts–is something that needs frank, and probably ongoing discussion in our profession.