#echolib - the Seth Godin Uber-Echo Disaster

Just to add some more context to the discussion of moving beyond the echo-chamber (which is gathering pace on Twitter and in the blog comments here and in particular on Organising Chaos ) - I was discussing this whole thing with someone in an email, and it forced me to articulate the problem a bit more, so here's an extrapolation of what I said. The echo-chamber problem as it applies to the information profession, just to be clear, is good ideas being conveyed to like-minded people who then repeat it back to other like-minded people, who all agree about the ideas, but the whole process doesn't ever reach the people who were not of like mind to begin with. Wikipedia describes the echo-chamber like this: "...any situation in which information, ideas or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission inside an "enclosed" space."

The biblioblogosphere in particular is jam packed full of absolutely ace ideas, trends, memes, and inspirational people; the problem is how 'enclosed' the space is. I'm generalising here, but it seems like the people who really get the whole need to reinvent and revitalise libraries, and the role of the information professional, are the ones already online and reading what each other have to say. The dyed-in-the-wool librarians who like to kick it old-school and refuse to engage with the problems we're facing, aren't likely to be reading blogs, or sifting through Twitter, in the first place. So the initial problem is the best ideas are being kicked around in an enclosed space that only reaches people who start off receptive to exciting ideas, rather than getting to those who are resistant to change.

(A sub issue of this, as I've discussed previously, is that a lot of the newer professionals who spend time learning a whole host of insightful stuff via blogs etc, are not yet in a position of sufficient responsibility to apply what they learn to their 9-5 jobs.)

The wider issue is, we're not reaching beyond the library in a lot of cases, either (or breaking out of the library ghetto, as Matthew Mezey so succinctly puts it!). So there's me thinking I'm highlighting important issues at last year's New Professionals Conference, talking about the way in which librarians are portrayed in popular culture, about how we are really, and about what we can do to change perceptions. But really, it was into the ech0-chamber - I was talking to other new professionals, and no one outside the library sector will have heard what I had to say, let alone been influenced to change their mind about librarians. (The version of that talk I gave at the CILIP Graduate Day was better in this respect, as non-librarians and potential librarians attended this.) I know some of the real uber-bloggers with thousands of followers do reach beyond the realm of the info pro, and that's fabulous. But in a lot cases, the people getting to hear about all our cool new ideas are our existing users, and other Information Professionals.

The whole Seth Godin thing was something of a frustrating example of this. For anyone living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, Seth Godin is very, very popular and influential marketing guru, who recently turned the attention of his blog to the future of the library. Seth's blog post asked the question, what should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age? The first sin, right there, is assuming we aren't already relevant in the digital age. He went on to say: "Here's my proposal: train people to take intellectual initiative." Sin number two - this is a great idea, which is why we've been doing it for years already. And he also says: "...the net turns things upside down. The information is free now" which of course is massively over-simplistic (ie basically it's not true) and so constitutes Sin number three.

What happened next was quite exciting, in that a lot of extremely articulate library bloggers took Seth to task on all the points above (and more) and really broke down what he said and set him straight. Andy Woodworth wrote an excellent article about it, in which he provided a list of quite a few of the other good responses, which I've copied here:  SarahGlassmeyer(dot)com, Digitization 101, Lucacept, Neverending Search, Blue Skunk Blog, Schooling.us, Justin the Librarian, A Curious View of the World, The MLXperience, Cathy Nelson's Professional Thoughts, Library Idol. Of particular note is the post on theanalogdivide, which was one of the first responses to Seth's original post and was widely re-tweeted (kicking off this whole thing), and has lots of extremely well argued points from Info Pros in the comments section - as well as a slightly bemused response from Seth himself; if you only have time to read two, read that one and Andy's (his blog is the absolutely awesome Agnostic, Maybe).

This was inspiring stuff - a brilliantly reasoned, passionately articulated explanation of what we do, and a real statement of our value. The great and the good of online librarian presences combined to mount a spectacular defence of the profession, and of the library.

BUT. Seth Godin's blog does not allow comments... so, the vast majority of the argument for the relevancy of libraries in the digital age etc took place in the enclosed space of the information professional's online community echo-chamber. This is incredibly frustrating - because Seth's global audience is massive, and will have all read his indictment of the profession, but the fantastic response from the profession will have fallen largely on the ears of our own community. And not only is he influential, he represents the views of a massive amount of potential library users - people do think libraries are not relevant in the digital age, they do think all information is free, and so on and so on. So the point of #echolib is to discuss how we can respond to this kind of thing beyond our enclosed space, and in the public arena...

- thewikiman

[EDIT: I have just had it brought to my attention that the Huffington Post article (which I'd read and enjoyed but shamefully forgotten to include in this blog post), was in fact written by Mr Theanalogdivide himself, Toby Greenwalt... This is a 100% proof fantastic example of well and truly escaping the echo-chamber - this is the kind of thing we need to be doing! So have a read of it, and take note of all the fantastically positive comments...]