Librarians are horizontal; libraries are vertical

Picture ogf the earth I'm ensconced in the Special Libraries Association's massive annual conference in Philadelphia. It's fantastic. This is the first of probably a few posts picking up on key themes.

The Pulitzer prize winning author and controversial New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman opened the conference with his keynote on Sunday. Whatever you think of his politics, writing style, fee and so on, I'm really pleased that (as is always the case with SLA) a non-librarian was opening the event, and indeed a non-librarian will close it too. A key part of breaking out of the echo chamber is for us to go to non-library events, and to have non-librarians at ours.

Friedman is the author of  The World Is Flat, and he talked about how internet technology has flattened the world, brought companies and people together side by side, and interconnected them. This horizontal communication has, of course, revolutionised the way we work. He also talked about how vital the notion of 'upload' was - enabling people to participate in the web, not just consume it, and how much this increases involvement and excitement and commitment to the cause.

It strikes me that librarians are pretty good at this, for the most part. We live in this horizontal world, we are interconnected, we use web  2 tools to talk to each other, we upload. We are horizontal, and our wold is flat. Libraries, on the other hand, struggle with this a lot more. Libraries are vertical. Libraries' content is often hidden behind catalogues or databases which aren't fully interoperable with the rest of the web, which thwart the interconnectivity. Furthermore, we find it very difficult to encourage 'upload'. We are so used to protecting our collections, that the notion of giving people an active role and allowing them ownership is hard to come to terms with. We're trying, I think, but it's hard to empower people in the kinds of ways that makes them excited, passionate, and consequently advocates. People tell their friends about stuff they can claim ownership of, it's partly why there are so many web 2 success stories; we in libraries are still at the stage where we gasp at the idea of allowing tagging on our catalogues.

It's a tricky issue - but we have to address it sooner or later...

- thewikiman