April 19, 2018


23 Things—10 Years Later

Helene Blowers

Helene Blowers
Community Program Manager, WorldShare, OCLC

It’s hard to believe that when Helene Blowers created her “Learning 2.0: 23 Things” program, the term “Web 2.0” was a novel one. It was 2007, and it earned Blowers a nomination to Library Journal’s “Movers & Shakers” list.

The program stands as an early example of web-based social learning. It encourages digital literacy using web-based exercises to expand staff knowledge of blogs, image generators, RSS news readers, etc., and offers rewards to those who complete 23 tasks in a certain time period.

Blowers, who was then the Director of Public Services Technology at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, created “23 Things” out of frustration. She was trying to figure out a way to move her library’s 500+ staff through a training program that would expose them to new web technologies.

Fortunately, she was struck with an ah-ha moment. “I realized that I didn’t need a training program,” she says. “What I needed was a learning program that focused on two core elements—motivating employees to explore new technologies on their own time, and engaging them in a journey in a network of co-learners.”

Blowers finds it hard to believe that a decade has passed since she launched the “23 Things” program. She still gets emails informing her that the program has been replicated in new formats or for new audiences. Just this month, she learned that LIBER, the Association of European Research Libraries, is launching “23 Things for Research Data Management.” And the University of Edinburgh recently completed “23 Things for Digital Knowledge” for both staff and students.

“It’s been hard to keep up with the program’s growth over the years,” she says. “For a while I tracked the programs in a Del.icio.us.list, but I gave up long ago trying to keep up. That list contains more than 500 individual programs in 17 countries.”

The Movers & Shakers acknowledgment created some great opportunities for Blowers, including worldwide speaking and consulting engagements on innovation, learning and emerging trends. After 12 years with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system, she took a position with the Columbus Metropolitan Library as the director of digital strategy.

Currently, Blowers is with OCLC, providing leadership for its global Community Center, where she continues to exercise the core foundational elements of “23 Things.” “The core elements that made 23 Things so successful always keep in the back of my mind, no matter what type of community I’m working with,” she says. “The OCLC community is defined by a shared purpose—that’s the ‘motivation’ element. My role here at OCLC is to help members make meaningful connections with OCLC staff and services, but more importantly, with each other.”

Blowers is also a regular contributor to the OCLC Next blog; her most recent post is: “We are stronger when can solve problems collaboratively.”

We asked Blowers what advice she has for the 2017 class of Movers & Shakers. “Find a way to add value to your library’s mission beyond what’s just in your job description,” she says, adding that this will require extra personal effort beyond the regular 40-hour work week. “But when you’re able to align your passion with your practice, the extra time becomes inconsequential. When you’re engaged in something you love, that’s when you’ll shine the brightest and make the biggest personal impact.”