On August 27, I attended the Library & IT Services Innovation Lecture at Tilburg University. The speaker was Stephen Abram, SirsiDynix’s Vice President of Innovation. His talk was titled “Building Capacity for Learning: Affordable Technology Preparedness“. Stephen held a passionate plea for reform of university library practice, urging librarians to fully embrace rather than feel threatened by the Web 2.0-and-beyond world that students live in. Stephen raised many interesting points, a few of which I will mention here, as they are so relevant to collaborative and learning community capacity building in general.
The rate of library change is going to be orders of magnitude higher than before, we ain’t seen nothing yet. There is going to be a change of paradigm. To mention only a few of many fundamental changes that will need to be absorbed : e-books, the dawn of a “paragraph-level instead of an article based universe”, the role of libraries in distance education, and so on.
Context of use is all important. For example, there are hundreds of citation styles, but who (besides librarians!) uses which particular styles in which workflows? A fundamental issue is how to move content into context? Facts out of context are useless. Rather than overloading students with facts, universities should be teaching them the processes that let them get the facts when they need them. For instance, they should deeply understand the politicized knowledge processes like web search engine retrieval results manipulation. More in general, what are the information literacy pieces needed to contribute to the students’ success? Rather than working with isolated steps, we should work with an information ecology. Professors, TAs, students and so on should all be trained at the community level.
Using Web 2.0 thinking will be essential to accomplish these goals. Basically, the meaning of Web 2.0 is “the things you can do times the people you know”. For librarians, this means that they are not anonymous, interchangeable staff, but accessible individuals with unique skills who interact intensively with their student community. Social software like Facebook could play an important role supporting this process, e.g. through the wise use of pictures and descriptions.
In sum, the main question is: how do we prepare library staff to do things and know people? In the “Library 2.0″, the user is at the centre, not the librarian. Web 2.0 tools are affordable and easy to experiment with. We should not be afraid to try and make errors, such an experimental approach is the best way to learn how to empower students by building on their skills. The Special Libraries Association Innovation Library has a wealth of resources to discover and discuss emerging Web 2.0 software learning tools and see how they can be used in the library context of the future.