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Stuck Here in Onepointopia

Something is seriously wrong in the land of Twopointopia, that land where we will all achieve personal and professional salvation through the use of applications that supposedly have something to do with “Web 2.0,” or even “Library 2.0,” whatever that turned out to be.

What’s wrong? Well, pretty much everything the twopointopians have been telling us for years. Big surprise.

Those Webjunction folks are big twopointopians. It’s a pity the Webjunction members they surveyed about using online tools aren’t, even though the way Webjunction presented the questions tried to put square librarians into round twopointopian holes.

Of all the online tools the survey presented, guess which one was, by far, the most heavily used for professional work? The email listserv. This, according to Webjunction, is “Despite their definite 1.0 clunkiness.”

Despite their 1.0 clunkiness, indeed. This says a lot more about Webjunction than it does about email listservs.

64% of respondents used them on a daily or weekly basis, and only 16% had never used them.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the small contingent of fanatics who are swearing off email for some length of time. Perhaps they’re inspired by this guy. And we often hear that teenagers don’t use email much, and thus email is dying.

The problem is that email is the way just about every professional in America communicates. If you’re some tech writer who doesn’t depend on other people, sure, give it up. If you’re a sales person or a librarian or a manager or any professional who other people depend on, try giving it up and seeing what happens.

Just what would happen if the boss or the client or the patron got an email autoresponse like this: “No longer responding to email, if you need me, you’ll figure out a way.” I think we know what would happen, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

People want to give up email because it overwhelms them. That’s because just about everyone uses it for communication, and because the overwhelmed people don’t handle email very efficiently. You’d think after decades of dealing with email, people would learn a few tricks.

Last year, someone from Facebook told the world that email was probably going away, because, like, teens didn’t, like, use it much.

Someone then pointed out two flaws in her claim: first, that she didn’t know how to read survey questions, since the survey question specified using email to communicate with their friends, and second, that teens tended not to have a lot of professional communication, where email communication dominates.

The more amusing thing is considering teen behavior as a predictor of adult behavior. Do you still devote your time and energy to the same things you did as a teenager? If you do, then you probably have some sort of mental illness.

Another annoyance is the way Webjunction skewed its survey. It asked about “email discussion lists,” but it didn’t ask simply about email. I’m betting the percentages would rise dramatically, with 99% using it on a daily or weekly basis and 0% never having used it.

Compare that to social networking sites. only 39% of respondents claimed to use them daily or weekly for professional purposes. Perhaps the 2.0 clunkiness of Twitter and Ning are keeping people from adopting them.

Or maybe it’s that there’s not a lot professionally useful about some of these. After all, 63% of respondents use social networks in their personal lives. That’s a pretty large difference, and it’s the difference between playing games or hanging out with friends and working.

I’m also skeptical about what using the tools “in a professional setting” means. I would speculate that the majority of librarians using social networking for “professional” purposes aren’t really using it for anything to do with their jobs. At least that doesn’t seem to be the case for the librarians I know, including myself.

They may hang out on Facebook or Friendfeed or Twitter communicating with other librarians, and maybe even about topics related to libraries, but rarely about their actual library work.

What if the question was changed to, “used the tools for work,” defining “work” as “the stuff you actually do for your job,” rather than, “any activity even tangentially related to libraries that I could therefore consider professional activity”? I suspect we’d find a huge difference in the statistics.

Unless your library has a profile on a social networking site AND you’re the person responsible for it, your chances of using one for work are almost nil. Generously, we could probably drop that percentage who use social networks for work purposes to about 5% on a daily or weekly basis, with maybe 75% never having used them at all.

By restricting the use of email to “discussion lists,” including every possible social networking site as one category, and using the vague phrase “in a professional setting” instead of “for work,” Webjunction was skewing the results in favor of the twopointopans, even if they didn’t realize it, which they probably didn’t.

If the twopointopians looked reality in the face instead of trying to wish it away, they’d see that we’re still stuck in clunky onepointopia, where just about everyone uses the decades-old technology of email for work and just about no one uses sites designed to connect friends with each other. Put that way, it’s not surprising at all.

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Comments

  1. Jessica Olin says:

    When I was talking with library students on Twitter about listservs, probably a couple of months ago, a number of them indicated that they never use them – “I can get everything I need from Twitter.” I adore Twitter. As you mentioned, it’s great for social networking – chittering with librarians and academics around the world is fulfilling in a way listservs can’t imagine – but it’s not a way to really learn from those with more experience than me. I think the main problem with twopointopians (love that neologism) is that they think in terms either/or. I think the realists among us know “both” is the best approach.

    Anyway, fab post. You’re getting a standing ovation up here in Northeast Ohio.

  2. Spencer says:

    Isn’t this more highlighting a shortcoming of the members of the profession than anything else? I mean, does it not indict the profession for failing to use the potential of the tools in favor of what they already know?

    To me, this survey showed a lack of professional creativity and desire for betterment than the failures of the tools. If you hand someone an axe and a chainsaw, and they don’t want to use the chainsaw because they don’t know how it applies in the situation, is that a failure of the chainsaw?

    No, I don’t think it is.

  3. Randal Powell says:

    A good example of a clunky technology is “Second Life”. I had to try it in library school, and it gave me a literal headache.

  4. Spencer says:

    Second life was an excuse for librarians to play at work and claim it was work related.

  5. joneser says:

    Regarding shortcomings – how many public service librarians have the time to be twittering away? Checking one’s email is about as good as it gets. Not everyone has a handheld device either – how many librarians are unemployed, part-time, or haven’t had a raise in years?

    We’re lucky to keep the doors open. Exploring the potential of tools isn’t always on the to-do list.

  6. Andrew says:

    I never understood the obsession with Second Life. It was a joke well before librarians got ahold of it as the next big thing.

  7. Barnabus says:

    One point -

    Email might have been around for the past ten years, but it has evolved considerably as far as the technology goes with pictures, imbedded HTML, etc. as well as vastly improved utility in contacting, searching, and networking. It is a definitely a onepointoh technology, but with a lot of twopointoh features.

    That said, I find it funny that people would describe themselves by the level of technology they use. It makes me wonder why they bother being librarians at all if what they really want is to be bloggers or programmers.

    • Fat and Grumpy says:

      @Barnabus I know I’m a day late and a dollar short here, but I got my first e-mail address in 1981 and e-mailed my first attachment in 1985. You can pretend it’s got 2.0ism to it, but it don’t.

  8. DG says:

    And to take a cue from jonser – how many corporate/special librarians have the time to “twit”? In my many years of experience in the corporate and special library world, it seems to be the academic librarians who have way too much time on their hands – who even write the dissertations to the listservs. When 2.0 or social networking tools are talked about, one must ask the question: What problem does it solve?

  9. Allison says:

    RE: Spencer’s comment. No, I don’t think this is an indictment of the profession. If the axe works really well – and for me, it does – why should I use a screwdriver?

  10. spencer says:

    @Allison-

    I don’t know why you’d use the screwdriver either. ;) You would use the chainsaw because it will eventually- with a little training- allow you to work better, more efficiently, faster, etc. It will decrease your workload while increasing your output- allowing you more time to innovate other areas of your job. It’s working SMART vs. working HARD.

    To expand on your logic, the rotary phone worked just fine. Transitor radios worked well. Window Unit A/Cs worked well. Horses and buggies worked great. Why would anyone what a modern phone, mp3 player, central A/C, cars, etc.

    You know, the hammer worked well for John Henry vs. the steam powered hammer- but the winning killed him.

    @joneser maybe if they put away the axes and picked up the chainsaws they would have more time to twitter with colleagues and share stories and innovations that could further the profession greatly.

  11. Spekkio says:

    “Do you still devote your time and energy to the same things you did as a teenager? If you do, then you probably have some sort of mental illness.”

    Wow. Just…wow. There are so many things wrong with those two sentences that I don’t even know where to start. Considering that they do not contribute to the point you were making and considering that I think they are terribly discriminatory, over-generalizing, and insulting, might I suggest simply editing them out?

    Not cool, AL.

  12. Bruce Campbell says:

    Your mother says to pick up some eggs on the way home, Spekkio.

    Agree with this post. Professionals, especially in library settings, don’t do actual work on Twitter or Facebook. These tools might be effective ways to communicate with Tweens or Teens, a way of shotgunning information out there, but it’s nothing more than a marketing/information dissemination device. Ideas/policies/implementation strategy are not discussed or hashed out via Facebook/Twitter.

  13. Techserving You says:

    Agree with it all, but will only comment on this one thing:

    “Do you still devote your time and energy to the same things you did as a teenager? If you do, then you probably have some sort of mental illness.”

    I literally laughed out loud at this. So true, so un-PC to say.

  14. Techserving You says:

    Hee hee hee. I wrote my post before reading Spekkio’s post. Now I find those two sentences even more funny.

  15. Techserving You says:

    Randal Powell – a classmate of mine from library school was named – while still a library student – a “Mover and Shaker” because of her use of Second Life. Even then nobody was using it and it was a massive waste of time. Ri-freakin’-diculous.

  16. Joneser says:

    @Spencer – you obviously don’t work on a busy public service desk. There is no “improvement” to placing hold requests, walking patrons to the stacks, rebooting comoputers, breaking up fights, you name it. You don’t use Twitter to tell someone where the bathroom is (and to replace the paper towels). We’re not talking technology here – we’re talking working with people. The “high touch” thing that is always the latter – and underfunded – part of the “high tech, high touch” koolaid.

  17. Libraryman says:

    I think Spekkio was reffering to the mental illness part…which I can see. I wouldn’t want to insult someone with a mental illness by comparing them to a teenager.

  18. spencer says:

    Joneser,

    I DO work at a busy public service desk. That’s what I do all day every day. I man the desk. However, I still have time to catch up on industry news and figure out better ways to get things done.

    In my opinion, if you’ve stopped trying to do things better, you’ve just stopped trying.

    Here’s another question- why in the hell does one need a library science degree to do any of those things you just described?!

  19. Anonymous Internet Commenter says:

    @Spencer

    I think you are too quickly dismissing the axe analogy. Your reply hinges on the technology being an improvement.

    I am not convinced twitter and 2.0 are chainsaws. Change is hard and not all change is useful. New technologies need to prove themselves and I do not see rushing to use whatever new technology has appeared to be the wisest use of our limited budgets.

    @AL

    I don’t often agree with you, but you nailed it this time.

  20. Michael Collins says:

    Another great article AL;

    Sharing this article from Australia. Some interesting comments at base of article.

    “The Vulgar Modernization of our Libraries: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/30680.html

    Views expressed in the article are not mine.

  21. Spekkio says:

    If AL had made similar derogatory comments involving race or gender, Library Journal would delete her blog and make a public apology. But no, AL made a derogatory comment about people with mental illnesses – and that means it’s *hilarious.*

    ::sigh::

  22. 20 yrs, 6 libraries, no MLS says:

    @Barnabus:

    “Email might have been around for the past ten years…” Oy vey — try more like forty. Thank you for being today’s thing that makes me feel old.

  23. Joneser says:

    Spencer,

    Short answer – you don’t.

    Except that too many libraries are so short-staffed that it’s not an option to not put librarians on the desk, where they can do their MLS-caliber activities in between everything else.

  24. Karen says:

    I can not stand listservs. No one wants tons of messages in their inbox every day. Discussion boards are much better. But they were around in the 1.0 era too.