[The OLD] Attempting Elegance

IL 2007: Day two, keynote, Joe Janes

Posted in conferences, IL2007, The Profession by Jenica Rogers on October 30, 2007

[this was one of the most entertaining and energizing things I’ve heard in a very, very long time.  The keynote was simply wonderful.  Can I take Joe Janes home with me?  Can he come energize and speak truth to the powers that operate at my institution, in my system, and within our state?  Please?  The last time I had this powerful a reaction to a speaker was the first time I heard Cliff Lynch talk – articulate, well-read, synthesizing information on the fly, and conveying more nuance in one sentence than I hear in most days.  And funny.  Funny is always good.]

Joe Janes, Reference 2.0

“Bring all the people who want to reminisce about the National Union Catalog to a conference just for them, then lock the doors and send them away.  Then all the blogosphere complaining about no jobs would just go away!”  AWESOME.  Laughing applause and cheers.

Samuel Green article on reference – “Half written like it’s 1876 and half startlingly fresh” – 1876 Worcester library, Green describes too much information and not enough ways to get help, and recommends librarians step in to help people.  As a result, the idea of helping people (reference) spread differentially through the profession – special libraries, then public, then academic – because academics were supposed to learn how to do it themselves.  No reference assistance in academics until after 1910.

So.  2007.  “We can demonstrably say there’s too much stuff.”  AND people can find it, or can find something, and there are lots of ways to get stuff.  Reference was developed when there was far less information that they couldn’t find on their own, and that’s not our world anymore.  We have to think about and conceptualize and train for reference work in new ways.

  • It’s worth assuming that everything will become digital, or at least digitally findable. – Google wants to have “all the books” digitized.  Not all the books in English, but all the books.  All. The. Books.  So it’s worth assuming that we can and will get to everything being digital.
  • Lots of search mechanisms.  Reference to Lee Rainey’s mention of horizontal searching.  “When are you going to pick a channel?” “I’m not trying to pick – I’m watching all the channels.”  Asymptotically searching.  Federated searching.  Surfing the sea of search results, not diving into one topical canyon.  So many ways to search – title, chapter, passage, poem, stanza, line… it creates a much different information environment than previous.  People used to train and learn to look for whole things, but now we’re increasingly looking for and universally finding wholes, parts, and bits of wholes and parts.

What we have to do:  Explore our areas of strength, and the niches where what we do can be responsive.  Capitalize on our strengths – why are we NOT editing Wikipedia?  “If you don’t like Wikipedia, and you aren’t editing it to make it better, shut up.  You don’t get to complain.”  (w00t!)  Why are we not focusing on depth, accuracy, and authority for the people who care or can be made to care?  We have the resources, skills, and perspective to be the deep divers when people’s own surfing can’t solve their problems.  Google gets hundreds of millions of searches every day, and we couldn’t handle that demand if we wanted to – so why should we try?  Instead, provide high-quality service to the people who want and need high-quality service – and abandon the rest.  “You can think about this as a diminution of what we do if you want to, or you can think of it as focus.  It’s a recognition of how we fit best in this information environment.”

This social life and networked world is “individually communal” – all doing our own things in connection with other people.  Broader and broader, but richer as well.  “It’s the lastest manifestation of the idea that we all just want to be heard.”  Beautiful example of comparing handprints on cave walls from millennia ago to the work people do in Facebook and Twitter and all over the information world – all just people saying “I was here.”

In the new information environment, the product is never “finished”.  The process is part of the outcome – Wikipedia is never finished, LibraryThing is never finished, FaceBook is never finished – and the participation is the process is the product.  And half to one third of our communities are living in that world, and shaping new expectations based on that environment.  Therefore, we have to live and be and expect and shape environments in the same way, reaching out and saying, ourselves, that “we were here” too.

People use Second Life because they want to create.  In Second Life, you have to create yourself, define yourself, form yourself, and then you can create spaces and places and ideas.  People don’t use Second Life if they don’t want to create.  And people do use Second Life, because they do want to create.  If librarians can help people – in all sorts of domains – make their creative works more easily findable and usable, we can offer a real service.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t be librarians – I’m saying get out of the freakin’ library.  And stay in the library, too – you’ve gotta be somewhere and everywhere.  All the time.”  The concept of the library needs to leak out of the building – the building matters, as social space, meeting space, work space, discussion space – but as the stuff becomes increasingly digital, it has to be available everywhere – inside, outside, and upside down.

(Great “bunny slippers” joke, complete with audience member asking what size he is.  Everyone send Joe Janes bunny slippers!)

No matter where they are when they interact with your stuff, they’re your users.  “I bet you can tell me within 10 users how many users come through your doors and use your reference services, but not how many people use your website and your databases and your online resources, and that’s an open scandal.  Your use has doubled in the past several years, and you don’t know it, and that’s suicidal.  Stop it.  Go home and count.”

So get out of the building.  People are getting help everywhere – FAQs, communal assistance, etc – so get out there and be a part of it.

“A modest proposal on segmentation.”  For the deep divers who need quality research assistance – do the “full blown machete-clenched-between-the-teeth” reference service.  “It’s what we were born to do.”

On Print:  It’s a secret weapon, and we should tell people.  Keep weeding reference collections and put them into the circulating stacks – “it’ll hurt, you’ll cry, you’ll embrace your inner Reference Librarian, and then you’ll get over it”.  Method over material – good advice from 1909, still relevant – use what’s appropriate to do the work.

For the surfers, who just need an answer or a direction, just move them forward.  Don’t try to make them care about the machete in your teeth.  Just move them forward, and if they need more later, help them again later.  In the transitory encounters, the gap you can cover for them is small, and we shouldn’t try to fit more into the gap than it can hold.

To they young’uns:  “I’m sorry.  I know we say no to you a lot, but you’re probably right.”  So keep trying to reach out, but let us mentor you as well – we did know interesting things before 2003.  “For god’s sake, it’s not us against them or you against us – work together!”  “If you can show us how to be in the tendrils and reach out, we win.  If we can show you how to use print in a responsive way, we win.”

Bottom line – the people who aren’t information users?  Leave them alone.  Let them know you’re there, and leave them alone.  If you can market yourself as a time-saver or a money-saver and make yourself relevant to people, they will come to you.  Otherwise, leave them alone.

“It’s unrealistic and illusory to think the old days are coming back.  We were made for better things, and the tools are better, and we are doing better, and we can be better.  The level of service, the depth and quality we can provide to people, are without parallel.”

The services we provide online must be better than the service we provide in person – people who walk in to our libraries have chosen us, and committed to being there.  People visiting online can be gone in a heartbeat and probably will be, so what we do online has to be better than what we do in person – more efficient, more compelling.

3 Responses

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  1. […] a few days later (and got laughs from it! Thanks Joe!). To actually see what he talked about, Jenica Rogers-Urbanek and Erica Reynolds both did a beautiful job covering […]

  2. […] it is. It’s their life, and they’re happy with that. At Internet Librarian, Joe Janes asserted that we have to, as reference librarians, be somewhere (a physical location) and everywhere […]

  3. […] Janes via Internet2 When Marianne and I saw Joe Janes give his keynote at Internet Librarian, we looked at each other and said, “Do you think we could get him to come talk to […]

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