culture essay

#Libraries and Social Media Identity

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#Libraries and Social Media Pt 1: Identity

(A Thought-in-Progress)

By Jesse A Lambertson

In Hal Niedzviecki’s book, The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, Niedzviecki analyzes the current mode of SOCIAL media and use of assorted web 2.0 technologies as not simply directed toward gathering information and learning – the rhetoric constantly used to justify one’s use of these applications – but are used instead to create a form of identity. He asserts his point on the notion every SOCIAL user and web 2-0 content producer believes their lives are as important as everyone else involved in the media. He suggests the response to that feeling is not only to build “connections” to others for learning and sharing about oneself in order to feel on equal ground, but rather the use of SOCIAL and web 2.0 technologies creates the existence of one’s self in that universe. What you see in SOCIAL and web 2.0 sharing-applications IS what you get. Interesting premise.

For a time, let’s suggest his point is spot-on. If that is the case, how might we turn this paradigm toward the now ubiquitous use by libraries of SOCIAL technologies ranging from branded blog platforms, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter to WordPress (to name a few)? I don’t know if we can make a final argument about SOCIAL technologies and its use by libraries of all kinds – academic, digital, public, research and special. My goal is not to draw attention to any library on any one point or example, just to strike attention to the idea being ruminated upon in this post. I don’t want to step on any toes of course. I just think this is a topic of study that has not gotten enough attention yet across library types.

My disclaimer: My views do not represent those of my employer’s, they are my own. Also, there are so many variations on SOCIAL media use, please fill in my blanks and accidental omissions with your own observations and don’t be afraid to show them to me here in the reply field or on my favourite of the SOCIAL platforms, Twitter.

Academic Libraries

Academic libraries are not all research libraries. Nor are they necessarily special libraries such as archives, image collections, map collections, medical libraries and law libraries. But what I see in my observations is that all of these libraries tend toward the same SOCIAL media and web 2.0 use. Some academic libraries use their SOCIAL profiles to directly state in yet another medium what they think they want to look like to their users; some use these applications to produce a quick information dissemination mode as students carry their mobile devices with them and can learn about events or alerts; some seem to want to create an “easy” web 2.0 alternative to walking in the library at all; some use web 2.0 technologies to promote content in OTHER web 2.0 platforms (such as Twitter to blog, or Blog to website); some run a live feed of their SOCIAL media on their normal websites; some use these technologies to draw attention to regional factors that may affect library use or resources; some link to other libraries’ resources, say within a library consortium, that they feel would be relevant to certain “followers” of their SOCIAL media feeds; many use web 2.0 technology as a form of sensational news (in lieu of having a “broadcast station” always on; some use these technologies as a reflection of the Learning Commons model they’ve adopted in the library brick and mortar spaces; and some use these assorted technologies in an advocacy capacity.

Academic libraries have realized, without stating so directly, their use and dissemination of information and trivia via web 2.0 tools straddles a contradiction of sorts. The first is that much information spread must be overseen by someone who has been entrusted by the institution to spread said info. We call this “vetting.” In this we find institutions determined to control what they “look like” to the outside world – this is their attempt to control their identity in SOCIAL media and web 2.0 platforms (in addition to the trusty website and library specific tools that have been there for years already). The other side of the contradiction straddling is the notion of dialog friendliness, trying to promote something that looks like connection and conversation in these consumer products used by not simply high level researchers and graduate students with narrow abstract goals in their use of the these libraries. I don’t have an answer for this contradiction. But it seems to be a slight unbridgeable gap between the affectation of “everyday” conversation marketed with use of web 2.0 technologies and the maintained image of the image engaged in that conversation with those technologies.

This contradiction is particularly interesting because academic libraries are increasingly jumping on the “big data” bandwagon by producing data on their own in the form of metrics and use statistics. One of the features not evident to those who may read or follow SOCIAL media produced on behalf of these libraries is that as information professionals look at all the numbers associated with access, use and other features, libraries are wont to also track, not users, but whether use of all of these applications increases traffic, use, connections etc. The truth is that a great deal of the data produced by these technologies is owned by the companies that produce these platforms. The other item worthy of note relative to this contradiction is that even as libraries jump on the SOCIAL/web 2.0 bandwagon, they are also the site where many technologies are used that take much time to learn and that contain links to articles, e-formats and databases unavailable just because an interested party “follows” their Facebook page or Twitter feed. I talk about this notion a little more below as it relates to digital libraries. The point here is that even as these web 2.0 technologies are used in greater numbers, the very quality of the academic library where students and researchers check out subject monographs, read subscribed articles for papers on a diverse array of topics, and find other media just for fun, is steeped in nuanced faceted search levels, intellectually created subject access, tags, owned catalog records, archival items in hazmat controlled vaults and experts (subject librarians) who will in fact aid in quicker and more efficient deeper research pathways. I am not saying these features cannot be combined with web 2.0 applications, but it is not their strength to aid in such goals. So when we say ask where a particular library is using some form of SOCIAL media, we might also consider what that really says about the identity of the institution in question.

Digital Libraries

Some digital libraries are not libraries per se, but are abstract organizations that act as advocacy units for digital libraries. I am thinking specifically of the Digital Library Federation. But some of these, such as the World Digital Library, is a specific library with connections to other larger organizations. I mention this because how SOCIAL applications are used by these groups is not always used with the strict attention to their own interests, but of those organizations that have funded or invested resources. So sometimes, information dissemination pushed out on SOCIAL applications gets pushed again by other organizations with vested interests of their own. I am not saying this is at all a bad thing. I simply draw attention to it because whatever identity or status one SOCIAL or web 2.0 application may enjoy is slightly changed with this realization. Others use web 2.0 applications to draw attention to new campaigns or digitization efforts.

The odd thing about digital libraries, which makes one think they exist on the open web for easy and free access, is that even though these efforts are taking place, and one would really want to tell interested parties about them, the collections being promoted are not always available in any way other than subscription. I am not using this post to get into issues of publishers, embargoes on copyrighted publications or open access, I have already commented upon these topics and I will continue to learn more over time. Subscription is not inherently a bad thing, But digital libraries are not always accessible on the open web. In fact, it is precisely the definition of the term, “access,” commonly used now with regard to getting information and research resources which sees its clearest use in digital libraries because “access” feels like a technical term (access codes, access granted etc) not necessarily related to simply seeing art, seeing manuscripts or reading books even though the OED defines it as, “To obtain, acquire; to get hold of.” The comedy of this is that even if resources are freely available on the internet, it is actually made possible by a series of access codes through control systems that allow your device (mobile, laptop or desktop) to communicate to the servers at the digital library and retrieve the items you have requested either via database query or URL request.

When digital libraries use web 2.0 applications, much of these harder issues related to information gathering and dissemination are hidden from view by the very fact that MANY web 2.0 applications are themselves being given to users free of monetary charge – this applies to many blogging applications (even WordPress has a free edition of its full code that can be hosted by anyone without using WordPress’s servers used for their more controlled themed platforms), Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and even Reddit. Thus, in terms of what identity is being indirectly postulated in instances of web 2.0 application use, the question is thrown into a bit of disarray. One of this factors which does fit, however, is the obvious and direct connection between lots of technologies being used to produce digital content (“born digital” we sometimes call it), its storage, preservation, visual representation and then retrieval. These are attributes that affect library identity because of the very technologies being used.

Public Libraries

Public libraries may not have long lists of special collections nor widely available digitized objects; but they do have something in their favour regarding the use of SOCIAL media and web 2.0 technologies – they are a tax supported organization run by civil servants (even if they are trained librarians). And as a result, their user base comes from quite diverse subsets of the population – much are tax payers themselves and can use pretty much every item in their collections. And to tack on a little side note, most of these freely available web 2.o technologies are embraced on a mass scale by users from every ethnicity, economic tier and educational achievement – precisely the population that makes use of services and resources at the public library. But let me not make the mistake that web 2.0 technologies, which make use of the web and digital infrastructure are the same in their nature as the identity of public libraries. They are not. The data and metadata produced by many SOCIAL applications on the web and used on the ever increasing number of mobile devices is used for profit, bought and sold, by many different interests out there. It is not clear this data is really collected in order to further democracy or to help people learn or to get jobs – these are some of the reasons public libraries are used. And libraries are operated as a public service by tax paying citizens and sometimes fund by the federal government and philanthropic persons or organizations. So when we remark that public libraries are using freely available web technologies, SOCIAL media platforms and other like applications, we are trying to connect one institution, a non-profit, with another institution, that of the companies with clearly stated monetary reasons for their being – that of increasing profits for their shareholders (and sometimes their employees). The irony of this of course is that many employees of these companies also pay taxes and turn right around and use their local public library.

Public libraries have many different uses for SOCIAL media and applications such as blogs etc. For instance, some libraries have added them as an afterthought because it’s “what’s happening” (this will be the case with some libraries in all categories); some have dedicated staff who produce, program, code and add content as part of their job description; some use these applications to have informal “chats” with followers; some use them as open “help” boxes where library users can send in their concerns with issues such as the catalog being down or a technical glitch in a transition from one interface to another; some use them to promote events that are national in scope but which libraries have gotten involved with (I am thinking about the annual NanoWrimo); some draw out collection spotlights of all the formats they carry (the good thing about this is that every collection item highlighted in a web 2.0 platform can theoretically then be used by every follower who has read about it); and some prefer to use the technologies in a formal way, more like a press release of an event or something. There are all kinds of ways Public Libraries use SOCIAL media and web 2.0 technologies. But this is sort of fascinating because the style can vary much from public library to public library even though public libraries’ mission statements remain fairly consistent.

Collections vary too according to local usage and budget restraints. Public libraries are, after all, a tax funded feature of the local government –city, county or state. Maybe the patron usage of SOCIAL media is what then determines the usage by the library. But what does this say about the identity of public libraries as an institution? This is where the line between users and the library becomes blurry. I will have to exit this section with these questions in mind.

The question was opened about what identity was produced by libraries of all kinds using SOCIAL media and web 2.0 technologies in a culture increasingly dominated by them. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration if the question is worth anything. I am not saying my original premise is even true, just that there may be something to it. I may take up this topic again in the future.

Please don’t hesitate to reply in the field below or “chat” about it on Twitter.

Thank you for reading.

Jesse L.

*There  are a couple instances of words that have an extra “u” in them. I just like the English spelling and find it easy to type by default.

Content Submitted to LibraryThing

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The Meaning of Book Reviews for LibraryThing

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I have just finished my seventh book review for LibraryThing. Most of my review content uploaded to the site has been possible by books given away at LibraryThing by either publishers or promotional groups. The aim of this tiny essay is to inquire about the meaning of writing for a website such as Librarything given what is happening to publication in general across the internet.

When one enters text or other content into fields in LibraryThing, there is no editor standing over one’s back checking form, grammar, whether anything inappropriate has been included or even whether your content has “stayed on message.” None of these factors are taken into consideration when text is added after the user has logged into the site under his or her account. Reviews, upon submission, can be voted positively following current crowd-sourced, social trends. Reviews can even be flagged for content reasons. But there is no committee, fact-checker or grammar check required to submit.

There are myriad points one could make about writer-controlled content added to a popular and publicly used site such as LibraryThing. Many of the same points can be made about author controlled web-sites of any kind. Writers, like all “public” figures, want to appear to put their best looking foot forward. In our contemporary era, web personas and content added to pages attached to these personas, are submitted to websites. Some of these websites are built upon freely available web authoring software such as WordPress.com. Others may have started out as Blogger sites but have transitioned into full-blown branded sites. And I do mean branding. This means that even if the free code has been downloaded from WordPress.org, it has been manipulated and customized according to specific and unique interests and then hosted at one of the many places to host code seen through browsers as a URL.

Whatever code and style limitations that may have been imposed by free blogs hosted at WordPress.com (which always include .wordpress.com in the URL) have been evaded by adding more distinguishing features, but not limited to, branding through naming. Some famous authors with fully branded websites (which do not necessarily have to be based on WordPress.org code) are William Gibson, Thomas Pynchon and Jeanette Winterson. I mention these three as examples of different styles that are designed with the intent to brand each author for marketing (which is not a bad thing). Each site is different. In truth, each of these sites may have people who run them who are not the authors themselves. But that doesn’t matter because the authors themselves are in control of what happens on them and how content is uploaded for live viewing.# So even though each author’s controlled and branded site looks nothing like LibraryThing nor a “standard” blog that could be run by anyone with an internet connection, the overall demand from controlled web publishing technologies are the same – content added for all the world to see is uploaded/added by select administrative personnel who determine what content is loaded and may or may not have any fact-checkers, editors or “appropriate” content managers standing over their shoulders deciding whether said content has “stayed on message.”

Now, it probably works to the benefit of every author who has a branded website to “stay on message” and use all necessary fact-checking and editing skills at hand because, well, they’re authors who author (write) and who are interested in developing an educated and positive fan base. These aspects of web publishing, however, are used by every author. It doesn’t matter if an author runs a small blog hosted on freely available software (where the software is openly branded) or a site built on fully developed and manipulated code. Each author wants to put his or her best looking foot forward. One could argue the best looking feet on the internet are branded and controlled websites. But it is not the case that every author prioritizes his or her writing the same way as another more famous one. Plus, there are lots of important and famous institutions (some universities and publishers) who use freely available web publishing software (where the software is openly branded) to promote their goods and services. Why can’t a “normal” person do the same thing? Time and space change all the time.

It seems to me many authors who care about their content added to the internet will already do their best to upload and submit the highest quality content they can manage. No, not every submission or act of uploaded content counts as authorship or toward activities built to promote a “writer.” But these days with technologies such as websites, blogs, Twitter, google+, about.me, LibraryThing and other social media applications that can be linked to each other, why would an author not make the most of every act of content upload? The linking of technologies to each other, a form of interoperability, can be used extremely effectively to promote and cross-promote writing of all sorts all across the internet. In some cases, a single post in social media will automatically cross-post to other applications. Professional writers use these technologies intelligently all the time. An amateur or non-professional writer can as well.

In many cases, posting in social media dovetails into the history of a writer’s writing. Writing a “proper” essay somewhere for web or print publication in which content is theoretically edited by a “real” editor is then promoted via blogs, websites with branded URLs and social media technologies. And now with publishers of books and e-books lining up to get some of those same publications promoted on LibraryThing, literary minded writers and creators of creative critical essays can submit high quality reviews for others to read while “real” writers can submit reviews to “real” publications on the internet. I understand the conundrum of peer-review when it comes to what makes a “real” publication. In no way are those justifications negative. They make sense to me too. In tandem with this point is the statement from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers that users who write reviews are more likely to receive more books to review than those who fail to submit reviews for books received has the caveat: the actual content of reviews does not matter. In this, a submission to LibraryThing may not count the same as publication proper, but publishers are still riding a circle by using it so heavily to promote (alongside “real” sites of publication) their wares. One just hopes, at least I do, that all reviews submitted to LibraryThing exhibit the best looking foot forward by writers submitting content for this particular social web portal. There is obviously some value and some cultural cache attached to these reviews.

Thank you for reading.

As always, I am open to comments here or @ Twitter.

 

#If this is not true, please communicate with me in a polite and educational manner. Thank you.

Take the Lane – a Cyclist’s Declaration

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I have moved this post to my bicycle centric blog here.

Thank you.

Kitschy Halloween

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Every year, the population of America (maybe other parts of the world), takes on the responsibility of decorating stores, houses and their bodies with all kinds of color schemes indicative of cultural and religious celebrations of “holiday” and Holy Days. I can’t run down the whole list of colours of course, but some of these are blue, white, gold, green, and red – a spectrum which takes into account something found in Christianity, Judaism and Kwanzaa. Festivus does not have a strict colour scheme. Or rather if it does, it fails to follow the rules of kitsch unless it makes fun of that kitsch (a form of cultural commentary perhaps?). But here we have only looked at colour schemes.

Other forms of kitsch are of course the burning of candles, trees, red fragile ornaments hanging on those trees and statues of all kinds. I can’t say the degree to which each person or family who uses these items in their respective celebrations does so for reasons of faith, religion (as faith and religion may not be the same thing) or other conforming societal forces. It matters not of course, but most of these celebrations have at least on their surface a veneer of joy, togetherness, family and love. I can’t think of any late-year winter celebration that does not fall into one of the categories (if not all). And there in lies the rub.

For when we look at these “holidays” (as opposed to “Holy Days,” which is really quite different methinks), we find default images on repeat yearly from the largest of retailers to the smallest of apartments. And when marketing schemes get involved, well, kitschy-ness just goes through the roof). There is a deep emotionalization attached to most of these repeated images and objects. And we have not even talked about the radio playing on repeat (almost literally) the same songs for countless hours every year. One person hugs and cries in happiness and another person feels warm & fuzzy inside for at least a few days every year. And a good thing too because this is such a hard world every other day.

But let’s not think life gets better really because not only do we have to BUY most of these objects/images yearly, but the increase of gifts and cash transactions also increases the types of crime that occurs during this most wonderful kitschy time of the year. But the point is that these images, objects and popular songs repeated yearly are safe. We like this type of sameness and I am labeling it “kitsch.”

If we step back two months in time before this approaching time of the year, we might ask ourselves if Halloween is also a time of kitsch. I mean, we hear some of the same songs in October, we search after the same kinds of movies at the same time each year and we decorate stores and apartments in the same colours (black, orange, white, and maybe red for blood) each year. Does this not encourage us to think of Halloween as a form of kitsch? Well…no! The reason is because burning candles do not suddenly jump up and scream in their user’s face while burning pumpkins chase lone travelers through covered bridges onward toward oblivion, elves do not crawl out of coffins and steal your life’s source while vampires do rip through your esophagus and drink your blood and men in red suits do not eat your flesh while zombies do look for humans to consume.

No images from this approaching “most wonderful kitschy time of the year” will cause you harm, but Halloween has lots of spirits and shadowy creatures that will, despite being repeated each year in cards and movies, shake the ground right from under your feet. There’s no way that experience is kitsch.