Be prepared for some serious Infosthetics in this one, people! Brace yourselves... If you're all excited, skip to the end and see the pic.
There are two things which I think all Information Professionals should be forced to experience: face-to-face contact with users / customers, and interaction with wider issues beyond their own little area. The former is important because we need to be reminded who we are all ultimately doing this for - many library budgets run to millions annually, and all that money is spent to support the real life flesh and blood human being who use the library. Remember them? That's why I like having to do #latenightlibrarian evening duty on the Enquires Desk, even though I don't really have a clue what I'm doing and always need to be helped by the people I'm supposed to supervise. The exposure to wider issues is important because everyone needs to know how what they're doing fits in with the more holistic whole; for that reason, when I change roles next month, I'm going to miss sitting on the Student Provisions Group, which allowed me to understand and influence a lot more than just digital library type stuff.
Sitting in my last ever Student Provisions meeting yesterday, the topic was how e-book policy should impact on purchasing print copies. Obviously the general feeling was, having an e-book which guarantees access is an excellent opportunity not to spend a fortune on physical books which add to the chronic shelf-space problems pretty much all academic libraries suffer from. But then someone pointed out that this placed the burden of cost on to the student because, due to their dislike of reading on screen, they'd end up printing out loads of the e-book. Good point, I thought - everyone else murmured their agreement too. As the conversation moved on I found myself thinking, hang on, digital natives or whatever you want to call them are not going to have a problem reading on screen. The Google Generation arrives in Higher Education next year - they're born into a culture where reading on screen is the norm, so this marks a massive behavioural shift. I know this, because I looked into user behaviour for a bloody great big series of blog posts on user behaviour, just last week! And THEN I thought, how rarely do my actual job and all my 'extra-curricular' activities to do with being an Information Professional actually collide... All this stuff to do with wider issues that I read about on blogs, and blog about myself, or see links to on Twitter - and it I gobble it all up, it swims round in my mind, and I find it all fascinating. But when does it ever come out again? How do I apply what I know to the real world rather than the theoretical or idealised world? Not nearly enough, I concluded.
In the end, I said what I was thinking about the on-screen reading, and everyone thought this was an excellent point, and that the review we were conducting should take it into account. So I'd applied blogosphere theory successfully to 9-to-5 library existence, good stuff. But that needs to happen more often. The trouble, as I see it, is that a lot of the biblioblogosphere consists of really intelligent, articulate and proactive people, who know an awful lot and have a lot to offer, but nevertheless don't occupy positions of massive responsibility. (I realise there are plenty of exceptions to this, but it is still often the case.) We know all of these exciting theories and the results of all these studies, but we're simply not high enough up the food chain, a lot of the time, to apply that knowledge to overall library policy. This is partly because it is natural for the newer professionals to embrace the social networking etc, and the media of Web 2.0, so of course there are more bloggers from that age-group. It is also, I suspect, because most senior managers are too busy implementing actual policy to spend time online speculating about it. But nevertheless, the whole thing seems slightly off-kilter somehow.
With this in mind, I decided to do a decidedly non-scientific experiment. I looked up the 'About' pages of every single blog in my Google Reader, and created a table which listed the number of people at each approximate level of responsibility. I then extrapolated from that the number of people at each level if my RSS-feeds numbered 100, which they don't. And, inspired by informationisbeautiful's famous Twitter graphic, I created the picture below.
Disclaimer: this is based on just the blogs I follow, on the accuracy and up-to-date-ness of their About pages, on broad categorisation which doesn't allow for complex subtleties, and a small amount of informed guesswork. Okay? This is NOT hard data. But it is, in my opinion, broadly interesting, and may equate to something approximately like a cross-section of biblio-blogs... Here we go:
I have to say, that graphic surprised me - it doesn't back up what I was saying nearly as much as I thought it would do, as there are a good few managerial types there, and a whole quiet-zone load of officer-level people. Although ultimately only four of those 100 bloggers are library Directors who can really make things happen as they see fit, perhaps most people are indeed able to act on the things you learn online, but it's definitely something I need to work on. Is anybody else storing up loads of interesting knowledge which often doesn't affect their day to day roles?
Anyway, this is hopefully going to be my last post before Christmas (I may fail in that aim if something particularly interesting happens) so have a good break everybody...