I’m an Adult Learner

Time passes faster each year. Remember when a school year was as long as a lifetime?  The same amount of time that once equaled 20% of my life as a Kindergartener accounts for a mere 1.6% of my life today.

It seems that the rate at which things chage has also speeded up.  PCs are now obsolete after only a few years.  New services debut weekly. I know I’m not the first – nor the only – one to bemoan the time and effort needed to stay current.  However, my occupation as a public librarian is the best possible career for me, because it allows me to dabble in the new stuff – a grown-up sandbox, if you will – under the guise of keeping library services relevant to members of all ages and abilities.

I just finished reading Clay Shirkey’s book, Here Comes Everybody.  Although his theme is about the power of ad hoc organization made possible by new methods of communicating,  one of the strongest thoughts I brought away is that established organizations almost never understand that customary operating models are hamstrung if “everybody” decides to “do something” to influence the organization.

I see libraries struggling to accommodate the more traditional members of their communities while reaching out to those whose first resource is the Internet.  However, because libraries are handicapped by an infrastructure that is slow to change, there’s no way to make a nimble corporate leap into the present. Retrofitting the collection, the catalog, and the ILS is just too huge an undertaking to be completed in the short amount of time that would be required.  Easier to start a new library from scratch.

As the manager of our Telephone Reference Service, I’ve thought for years that the phone, rather than the Internet, would become more important as a vehicle for delivering library services, but was unclear about whether we could change our delivery processess to take advantage of that medium.  Today, phones equipped with web browsers and MP3 players are in the hands of so many people, adults and children, that we cannot continue to ignore the capabilities of today’s equipment and the expectations of their users.

I.ve been learning how to network on Facebook (still struggling), Twitter (also still struggling), Ning (awkwardly struggling), and by texting (got that one down!) I just hope I can learn fast enough to become conversant with all these new things, and perhaps integrate them into our service delivery, before the next 20% of my life passes. By then, I’m going to have the fastest great-grandmotherly thumbs in the west!

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2 responses to “I’m an Adult Learner

  1. I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Shirkey – his example of the hounding of the teenager for the lost phone made me really angry. But I’m interested in the point you brought out (re. the difficulties engendered if everyone tries to do something). I feel many libraries tend to get stuck in a situation where the opposite is true – where nobody tries to create change, and those that do are regarded with suspicion. Is there a balancing point? How do you harness everyone’s ideas without getting stuck going too many different directions? Maybe I need to try Shirkey on again…

  2. Once you get past the phone anecdote, Shirky gives several examples of groups that effected major changes in defiance of an organization’s public position. He proposes that “groups … no longer need social support to gather.” (p.206). They don’t need a place, an umbrella organization, a mainstream cause. They usually form spontaneously in response to a perceived injustice or group need, and keep in contact via text messages, e-mail, or mailing lists.

    This means ad hoc groups can form for purposes not sanctioned nor intended by organizations, and not only be successful in meeting their own goals, but in several cases he documents, also have the ability to change the course of events and/or cause the organization to change its position. My point is that, a) if libraries are not aware of the power of such groups, they could become targets, and b) libraries are so concerned with saving traditional services and processes they are failing to see that they can participate in such groups and use them to keep the library dynamically involved in our community’s activities.

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