Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's the location, not the converstation.


Facilitating conversation is extremely time-consuming. I know I don't have the time to do it. I can't sustain communication through my blog or even on Twitter. I post something and then I'm off onto something else. Either I don't have the attention span to follow through, or frankly, I don't really give a fuck. I said my part as concisely or as cleverly as I could construct it. And unless some truly groundbreaking new information surfaces, I'm done with that topic. I can't sit around all day, congratulating myself if someone comments on what I said.

I'm not paid to guide online discussion. My bosses bosses bosses, that's from how high up the decision comes, don't want us wasting time assisting people who are not taxpayers. We've been told not spend time on questions that originate from outside of our area. And that's what the digital world is, outside my local area.

I get emailed questions all the time from people in other states or even other countries who want me to research some topic. But I can't do it. I don't say refuse outright, but I also don't spend more than 10 minutes thinking about the answer. You can argue that it's a gesture of goodwill to answer the question, and I would agree, but as a professional, I consider what that goodwill is worth compared to what it's worth to my local patrons who live and work right here in the city. I'm not going to spend all day researching the question for the distant user, when I have people right here who need my help.

A true digital citizen knows that conversation is global. Unfortunately, funding is local. Funding is the foundation of my library. Without money, I'm not a librarian. I'm not going to stand at the intersection with a cardboard sign that reads, "I'll look it up for spare change." And tell people to drive around the block and come back for the answer. Or give their phone number to the homeless librarian on the corner so I can text them.

But that being said, I'm not an idiot. I know that tools exist to automate some of this work. And then the job would be mostly hands-off. I could set up Twitter streams to filter content and direct it to our library site. I could try to direct conversations through Twitter #hashtags. This wouldn't take much time at all. The only problem is that there is a public perception that whatever appears on our library website is endorsed by the library, and the local government, so I'd need to post some long and complicated disclaimer that could cancel out the fun of participation. "No, the library is not selling llama Viagra. No, I don't know how to convince your male llama to mate. No, we don't have erotic llama DVDs."

Please don't make me Google "erotic llama DVD."

And since I work for government, I also have a whole slew of ethical rules I need follow if I don't want to end up in jail. So if I create a conversation and then ignore it as local businesses use it for their own benefit of if it's used to slander local elected officials, it's my ass. Most librarians won't tell you about their ass. But I'm always the first to point mine out. You'd know this if you ever met me: "Hi, I'm the effing librarian. Check out my ass!"

Everything about my job is local. For proof, you should read the transcripts from my chat reference sessions. Almost every question is about that person's local library or their local library account.

Also, I don't have the ego to think I can control the entire freaking Internet. There are other librarians out there who do and are trying to change the library world. I have enough trouble with this one crappy blog that nobody reads. Which is why I quit blogging. Yet I still have shit I need to get out of my system. So I post stuff like this.

Anyway, if you love cat-wrangling, I'm sure you'll figure this out. But my phone is ringing and there's a kid standing here who wants volume 27 of Yu-Gi-Oh!, so I gotta go.

Good luck with that Internet thing.

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