The trendy and the dead

6 Apr

Another CiL has come and gone, leaving in its wake longer Facebook friends lists, crowded Twitter feeds, numerous travel horror stories, and several gaggles of library folk who’re more informed and engaged than they were a week ago.* My Day 3 began with Michael Edson’s excellent keynote address detailing the insights he’s gained as the Director of Web and New Media Strategy for the Smithsonian, and ended in a Holiday Inn in Edison, NJ, quite further from home than I’d hoped to be. (But then, getting back to Ithaca can be difficult.)

Since the conference, I’ve found myself considering and reconsidering Amanda Etches-Johnson’s presentation during Tuesday evening’s Dead and Innovative Technologies session.  In a display of audience participation which warmed the cockles of this former teacher’s heart, she’d put the name of a technology up on the big screen and ask the audience if it was alive or dead. Unsurprisingly, “blogs”, “Twitter”, “Second Life”, and “information architecture” went up on the screen to be soundly and joyously declared deceased by the crowd, and Amanda concurred with their assessment.

But then, with the first two examples, she did something I found very interesting. She showed how the purposes of blogs and Twitter had become diluted in content and infested with corporate advertising, and noted that this proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that such things were no longer trendy.  And the part of me that used to teach LSAT prep perked up and said, “That’s a scope shift. Just because something’s not trendy doesn’t mean it’s dead.” And sure enough, then she showed a blog that was honest and interesting, and a helfpul Twitter conversation between a library and a patron. In cases like these, such tech doesn’t seem nearly so dead.

It’s easy, I think, when we play around with so much new tech, to mistake trendiness for viability.** It’s easy for library folk to forget that, by and large, we are not our target audience. Neglecting technology that our patrons might still be using because it’s not trendy is just another iteration of the mindset that gives us user-unfriendly OPACs that librarians think are awesome.  And considering that most studies of library presence in Facebook indicate that the kids don’t really want us there right now, maybe communication and networking technologies like these only become viable for libraries when they’re not trendy anymore.  

Finding the viability window for communication technology strikes me as one of the major issues that librarians need to grapple with in coming years, and Amanda and the other presenters did a great job of kicking folks’ brains into gear on the subject. And, it was fun to play RockBand with her.

* Based on extrapolation from a representative gaggle who’s posted to this effect on their various blogs.
** Of course, the fact that I’m still blogging and Twittering indicates that I’m clearly immune to this. Or slow. One of those.

8 Responses to “The trendy and the dead”

  1. Rob Donoghue April 6, 2009 at 9:20 am #

    For contrast, what were considered ‘live’ technologies in this context?

  2. Jim DelRosso April 6, 2009 at 9:28 am #

    Over the course of the presentations, cited emerging tech areas included web-based computing, cloud computing, and shared automation implementations, along with an increased focus on the user experience.

  3. Elise April 6, 2009 at 11:22 am #

    That’s an interesting point about facebook. Before library school I thought surely facebook was great way for libraries to publicize services, but now I’m seeing that people really just aren’t interested in using facebook for these kind of things. Maybe in the future , who knows? And every user group is different, so maybe there is something to be said for trying these new things and if they work that’s great, if they don’t maybe they will someday.

    I think sometimes people get so caught up in technology and what it can do that they lose the purpose of it, which should be trying to reach patrons at a point of information need.

  4. Ben April 6, 2009 at 1:30 pm #

    I, too, am not sure I get where the line is drawn between “live” and “dead” in this context. What caused the audience to acclaim these techs as “dead?”

  5. Roman April 6, 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    It’s also important not to forget that many other social networking applications have employed (co-opted?) the functionality of blogs and Twitter. I think that library tech land ought to appreciate that the supposedly “dead” technologies of blogs (so 2005!) and Twitter (an annoying fad!) have reappeared, in mutated form, in so many other places. None dare call it blogging if they’re not using Blogger or WordPress? But still, it’s sharing text/content updates and posts with other people in your social network, all with an RSS engine under the hood.

  6. Jim DelRosso April 7, 2009 at 8:32 am #

    Elise: I think you’re right on about Facebook. Undergraduates today may not want libraries in Facebook, but what if they’re still using it in ten years when they’re faculty? Of course, that’s assuming it has that level of longevity.

    Ben: I’d be willing to bet it was a trendiness thing, but that’s rank speculation. It might well have been tied to personal observation of the tech’s current utility.

    Roman: That’s an excellent point. RSS is a great example of something that regularly gets put into new applications, regardless of how “dead” its source is. It’s simple, effective, and already has strong roots in the user base; that’s a tough combination to try and replace.

  7. Fran Decker April 7, 2009 at 4:09 pm #

    After listening to the discussions about dead vs. merely non-trendy technology at CIL, all I could think of was the plague scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail “Bring out your dead”

    I’m not dead!

    ‘Ere. He says he’s not dead!

    Yes, he is.

    I’m not!

    He isn’t?

    Well, he will be soon. He’s very ill.

    I’m getting better!

    No, you’re not. You’ll be stone dead in a moment.


  1. Jim vs. recursive blog linking « The Nascent Librarian - April 14, 2009

    […] I’m doing my part to keep blogs alive, […]

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