bibliobloggers at the round table

Some time last year a few folks in the biblioblogosphere were tossing around the idea of having a Bloggers’ Round Table in ALA. I rather liked the idea, although it did occur to me fairly early on that since half the bloggers I read aren’t ALA members (and many don’t plan to be), it might not make much sense.

I have, despite my idiosyncratic and uncompromising nature, almost always been involved in a group of some sort, from Operation US Out (a coalition that opposed the “first” Gulf War) in high school to Vassar College Campus Patrol to UI Students Against Sweatshops (it seems I specialized in groups with under-construction websites) to, now, the biblioblogosphere (I love that word, but damn it’s long!). Of course, the last is a rather different sort of group. Though we’re often in agreement (let’s hear it one more time–just how badly does the OPAC suck?), we don’t have a mission. Though some of us get to meet occasionally, we don’t hold regular meetings. And, of course, though many people list their blogs on their resumes, no one that I know of adds “The Biblioblogosphere” to the list of groups to which she belongs.

A lot of people become bloggers, I think, because they have ideas that they wish to express that aren’t getting expressed in any organizational or institutional way. Those ideas are often quite good, which is why organizations try to latch on to the people who have them, which is how you end up with something like Karen Schneider’s most recent post on the ALA TechSource blog. Many of us have a somewhat uneasy relationship with institutions (or so I would assume–if I didn’t have a somewhat uneasy relationship with institutions, I wouldn’t be shelling out the money to pay for my own webhosting) and with groups in general.

I would argue, however, that despite the many and large ways that it differs from other kinds of groups, the biblioblogosphere nonetheless is one, and that even though Blake Carver is right (in the cover story of the March issue of American Libraries–gosh, it’d be nice if I could link to the actual article) about the difficulties of getting bloggers to do things together, we are all, in our alternately blundering, sophisticated, discursive, clever, and downright uncompromising ways, working toward the same end, or at least a similar one.

We want better libraries. We want better librarianship. We want to discuss our ideas with others who may have wildly divergent ideas but who are similarly fired up about them. We want to be around others who are as passionate as we are. And, perhaps frivously but perhaps most importantly, we want to be colleages, comrades, friends.

Last week, when everyone was Twittering, debating Twitter, denouncing Twitter, defending and defining Twitter as the next big thing, wondering what the hell Twitter was, and, in probably more than one case, wondering why no one had invited them to Twitter or why no one cared what they were Twittering about, I was feeling somewhat downcast. Twitter seemed wonderfully, and horribly, symbolic of everything wrong with the world and my place in it: it was a fun but largely pointless tool that all the cool kids were playing with and I was missing out on. Missing out on the latest Web 2.0 trend is sort of like missing out on prom–you know it’s probably not all that great and that most of the people involved are probably just posturing, but it seems like a seminal experience that you’re missing out on that will divide you from the rest of the world for the rest of your life, or at least the rest of next week (which in high school tends to feel like the rest of your life).

In the midst of that general train of thought, I went down to get the mail (there’s no mail delivery in Meeteetse, so every day I walk down to the post office to pick up our newspapers (no newspaper delivery, either) and whatever catalogs and interlibrary loan packages and journals have shown up in our box–when my IM away message says “getting the mail,” that’s what I’m generally up to–that and chatting with all the people I meet along the way–it’s all library outreach). In my PO Box was this postcard from Australia from Jessamyn. It put a lot of things in perspective. For one thing, I really had no idea Australia was that big–and now I hang my head in shame for my Mercator map view of the world, with all apologies to my colleages down under. But it also reminded me that Twittering (or whatever) is not the only way to communicate, or to belong, and that sometimes it takes awhile for a message to get around the globe, or even across the room.

Impatience is another trait of the biblioblogosphere (I want a standards compliant social OPAC with relevancy ranking, faceted navigation, command line capabilities in a user-friendly format and, of course, more cowbell–and I want it NOW!), and that’s often a good thing. But it’s also worth remembering that sometimes the news takes time. I worked with UI Students Against Sweatshops for over three years, and in terms of broader world impact, about all I can say is that there is one factory in Mexico that has a union now that didn’t before. I can also say that the UI has more policies and procedures in place that might help make that kind of gain a reality in more places, but I can’t say it’s happened yet. The biblioblogosphere isn’t working with a list of demands or even a list of points of unity. We’re just firing rockets into the night, hoping they ignite something and that that ignition causes a conflagration, and that that fire is the kind that does not simply destroy but also makes way for new things to be born. I’m eager and interested to see what will happen.

4 comments

  1. John

    Laura,
    First of all, you are one of the cool kids. You’re not missing out on anything. Trust ,me. Geeks like me never had a prayer of going to the prom, and that was just fine because I never had any interest in it. It’s all vodka and dirty dancing anyway. Let that be, and spend the time and energy doing and pursuing what your gut is telling you to do. all that other twittering nonsense is just distraction–or resistance as Steven Pressfield calls it in the War of Art.

    And you’re right about blogging. We are, in a sense, firing rockets into the night. But sometimes those rockets come into alignment and sometimes they bear down on one another and it’s in the phasing in and out of that kind of randomness where we find some of the most interesting things. Kind of like when two different tones come slightly out of harmony–it’s only then that we can hear each frequency for what it is. They they diverge more and it’s gone.

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  3. Kathryn Greenhill

    No offense taken. My parents had a postcard in the 70s that showed how many times Texas fitted into Australia. Most of us live on the outer coastal fringes where you can grow things that look vaguely European, and tend to be a bit frightened of the huge dry middle bit.