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Talkin’ bout an evolution


It’s been a busy week for me, and I’ve got a lot of ideas crowding to get on the page. So apologies for the info-dump! :)

First off, this post was passed along to me by a friend who’s in the midst of getting her Ph.d. (and fomenting revolution) at Harvard. It takes what seems to me a very dour view of the post-Twitter information age (note that ‘the Library’ the author refers to is a concept based on Borges’ Library of Babel):

The significant feature of Twitter is not the size of information transmitted. (Consider that a large portion of Twitter traffic is the sending of links to content, a single tweet can therefore send someone to gigabytes of information.) What is far more significant is that to use Twitter is to surround oneself in the constant flow of information. In Twitter, rather than seeking out information, we hook ourselves up to various hashtags and users and watch the waves of links and tweets stream past us. If something piques our interest, we retweet it and send it on downstream. This emphasis on finding and sharing information through social networks – encouraged by Google, Twitter, Facebook et al – is the death of search because it de-emphasizes active seeking.

What may not be obvious at first is that the Twitter stream is not simply an information flow, it is also a way of organizing and sorting the Library. (In this respect, Twitter is a challenge to Google and it is no wonder that Google+ mimics elements of Twitter.) Hence, the popularity of using hashtags to categorize tweets so that others may find them. To organize information in this way is to leave the vast majority of the Library untouched… it is to only care for what is freshest because one has no time for seeking out what is rarest… it is to live in a world without seekers.

So much for the ‘long tail,’ eh? As a social media enthusiast and information seeker, I really don’t see it in so much of an all or nothing way. So I was much more excited about Cathy N. Davidson’s Collaborative Learning in the Digital Age, which appeared in the Chronicle Review.

Davidson begins with a reference to this video

(I can’t seem to get it to embed — sorry!), which illustrates ‘attention blindness,’ a  phenomenon in which people’s focus on one object or activity makes them blind to events and objects outside their focal point, even when those ‘outside’ objects are directly in front of them.

Davidson argues that collaborative learning (enabled by social media), rather than diluting or distracting our attention, provides an opportunity to circumvent this blindness. By allowing students, professors, and others to collaborate, use of the internet and social media encourages an interconnected and inherently collaborative learning process. She writes,

“Collaboration by difference” is an antidote to attention blindness. It signifies that the complex and interconnected problems of our time cannot be solved by anyone alone, and that those who think they can act in an entirely focused, solitary fashion are undoubtedly missing the main point that is right there in front of them, thumping its chest and staring them in the face. Collaboration by difference respects and rewards different forms and levels of expertise, perspective, culture, age, ability, and insight, treating difference not as a deficit but as a point of distinction. It always seems more cumbersome in the short run to seek out divergent and even quirky opinions, but it turns out to be efficient in the end and necessary for success if one seeks an outcome that is unexpected and sustainable.

This seems like a good match for Casey and Savastinuk’s model of participatory service. By involving staff, users, and the community at large, libraries can engage with the culture of change necessary to ensure that the library continues to serve it’s community’s needs, even in the midst of cultural evolution (or tropical storms).

Anyway, I want to talk more about how I’m trying to see this in the context of my own library work (and y’know, touch on the *assigned* readings a little more), but I’ve got an early flight tomorrow and should get to bed. More later!

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5 Comments to

“Talkin’ bout an evolution”

  1. September 3rd, 2011 at 9:08 pm      Reply michael Says:

    Thanks for the linkage…the battery lantern thing really aligns with the concepts of participatory service… I also appreciate the links you shared. I think video embedding is disabled in this version of WP..I will look into it.

  2. September 3rd, 2011 at 9:14 pm      Reply Nora Sawyer Says:

    I’m a huge fan of embedding videos — and what’s the internet without cat videos? ;)

  3. September 4th, 2011 at 3:16 am      Reply Ellen Cothran Says:

    Nora, let me be the first to say (though I hope that’s not true) that if, indeed, you are a little kid dressed up in librarian clothes, then we need more little kids in law firms! I enjoyed your writing itself so much for how lucid and informed it is, and what you’ve written about is absolutely fascinating.

    My newest blog is much inspired by your thoughts. Take care,

  4. September 4th, 2011 at 3:16 am      Reply Ellen Cothran Says:

    Oh, and where on earth did you get the Darwin “change” poster? It’s priceless!

  5. September 5th, 2011 at 1:10 am      Reply Nora Sawyer Says:

    Thanks, Ellen! A friend of mine (a biologist) has a bumper sticker of the Darwin poster. I found my copy doing a Google image search.

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