“…I don’t think anyone could have guessed how it would evolve, and how fast it would evolve, and into how much of our lives it would actually get into. Right now you have screens in your pocket, and it’s quite common to see kids playing on a handheld, or see any of us texting. We’re constantly pulled into that space…”

Robbie Cooper discussing virtual worlds for his Alter Ego exhibit

How Do Libraries us Games, Gaming, and Virtual Worlds?

It’s always been a bit difficult for me to wrap my head around the role of virtual worlds and a sort of traditional conception of the library. In general, I believe that are two routes that libraries can take 1) games, gaming, and virtual worlds as education and recreation and 2) utilizing the social media aspect of gaming and virtual worlds to provide services.

Regarding the former idea, of using games, gaming, and virtual worlds in education or for recreation – I (nearly) absolutely wholeheartedly support. At minimum, I think that public and school libraries need to recognize games and virtual worlds as a legitimate medium for problem solving, learning, and recreation. Games and gaming platforms should be made available at public libraries, and should be maintained as a service. Games can range anywhere from a kind of online transmedia storytelling, to MMORGs, to simple two player arcade-style gaming consoles, and they can even be arranged into genres. A youth services librarian should be aware of all the different sorts of games and gaming platforms that are available, and what the appropriate age level should be for users. All that being said, I don’t support all games, and even though I am suspicious of most popular arguments that blame video games for violence among youth, I do think that games that have a certain level of violence should be reserved for those who are young adults or older. When I was at the San Diego Comic Con in July, I attended a panel titled Graphic Novels for Non-Teenagers, where the panelists discussed the benefits of having a graphic novel and comics sections for youth and adults. I look forward to the day when libraries not only  support and circulate games for youth, but also maintain a collection for adults, since many of us now have grown up with video games.

The later concept, utilizing the social media aspect of virtual worlds to provide services, is a bit more difficult for me to wrap my head around. I, of course, understand using social media to promote services, to reach out to various communities of users, and engage in dialogue with them. However, I question the effectiveness of providing links to a library catalogue or databases through Facebook, or providing services through a virtual world like Second Life. It’s actually much easier for me to wrap my head around the affordance of augmented reality tools like QR codes, to provide either a game-like experience, or simply to improve mobile access to library services, but to provide library or academic service in a virtual world? I don’t know…

After reading Rebecca C. Hedreen et al article Exploring virtual librarianship: Second Life Library 2.0, it seems that Second Life can offer various affordances for library services that are similar to real life services with some added creativity and imagination. On of the authors conclude with a consideration of the role of virtual libraries:

“Through Second Life we can begin to explore the meaning of a ‘virtual  library,’ one that does not have a physical equivalent, and, to some extent,the meaning of ‘library’ in general. Are we really about access, in which case a library with no more access than the Web becomes redundant? Are we still all about locating and searching, in direct competition with search engines? Or is there some combination, plus the personal interaction, which makes a virtual world so fascinating, that really makes up a virtual librarian in a virtual library.” ( Hedreen et al 192).

I do think that many librarians are struggling with what their roles are and what part their institutions play in todays information and media saturated world (see R. David Lankes talk on “The Future of Librarianship” or Aaron Tay’s blog post “8 Articles about the future of libraries that made me think”) and the Hedreen article touches on this anxiety around the future of the profession. I can certainly see the appeal or desire to have a library presence in highly populated virtual worlds, or to provides services to patrons who prefer communication through a virtual medium. But I have to agree with Lankes when he encourages librarians to ask whether or not these services are fulfilling “the mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities”.

What Is The Role of Immersion in Learning?

After poking around again, I came across this 2009 article by Diane Carr and Martin Oliver titled Second Life, Immersion and Learning. This team of researchers spent a year investigating teaching and learning in Second Life. In this particular article, the authors call into question some of the underlying assumptions behind the use of the term “immersion” in education communities and that “it would be problematic to assume that ‘more immersed’ is ‘better’ for learning or teaching, especially if such an approach is not sensitive to the students’ expectations, contexts, and interpretive frameworks…We have no wish to underestimate, demonise or dismiss the pleasures of immersion, but we would query the pervasive and often uncritical use of this term within the Second Life and education communities”. The authors overall argument is best summarized here:

“When theorising virtual world pedagogy it is important to appreciate that various forms of participation, attention and affect may be part of the learner experience. Education in Second Life involves multiple frames of reference – personal, social and technical – each of which may have implications for learning. To further our understanding of the pedagogic potentials of Second Life, we need to be clear about which of these frames we draw on when making particular claims, and be specific about the concepts that we employ in our research.”

I do think that these authors would probably agree with me when I say that immersion, as an aspect of learning or facilitating knowledge creation, still has a great deal of potential. As game designer Jane MacGonigal argues Gaming can make a better world and as Asi Burak of Games for Change notes some games are already making a difference. Immersion, virtual worlds, and gaming can offer a great deal of potential if used well and used strategically, either as a highly populated medium with which to engage with users, and provide a more user oriented service, or as medium for learning and civic engagement. It’s understandable that traditional library institutions are struggling with their role in todays world, but to choose to avoid certain forms of popular media and technologies based on unquestioned assumptions that such forms are low brow, will only strengthen the (ridiculous and falsely dichotomous) rhetoric that libraries are technologically outdated.

“There are no natives here…you should never feel stupid in this environment, because we are all stupid in this environment, it’s all new to all of us”

~ Michael Wesch

Michael Wesch’s video A Portal to Media Literacy and Howard Rheingold’s video on the Social Media Classroom seemed to answer many of the questions I was left with last week. Both videos introduce different learning management systems or virtual learning environments that support digital literacy, or what some call, 21st century new media skills.

Rheingold’s Social Media Classroom and Collaboratory is a kind of Drupal-based virtual learning environment that includes a variety of social media tools such as forums, blogs, commenting, wikis, chat, social bookmarking, RSS, microblogging, widgets, and video commenting all in an effort “to afford a more student-centric, constructivist, collaborative, inquiry-oriented learning.” According to the website, the SMCC helps “engage students in actively constructing knowledge together about issues that matter to them, rather than passively absorbing it from texts, lectures, and discussions.” Wesch’s Netvibes Digital Ethnography personal learning environment offers similar affordances as the SMCC but is centered much more around course content. Rheingold’s SMCC is a great all-purpose social media platform, that can offer a foundation from which instructors can build and tailor their course content.

However, what struck me about Wesch’s system was the way in he structured the course content. Rather than pointing students to resources with the expectation that they will process the material and regurgitate it in another form, Wesch structured the course around open research questions that students had to answer collaboratively. Wesch is also known for his use of game structures in his course in order to introduce students to important questions, ideas, topics, and issues that are relevant to anthropology. Granted Wesch’s courses are for undergraduate learners, however his pedagogical methods are noteworthy. According to Wesch, teachers have three important avenues with which they are able to create meaning or significance for learners:

  1. Semantic Meaning: Find a grand narrative to provide relevance and context for learning, i.e. What are the big questions? What is the epistemological context?
  2. Personal Meaning: Create a learning environment that values and leverages the learners themselves, i.e. Work together to create learning. Ask how can you unlock creativity and critical thinking?
  3. Do both in a way the realizes and leverages the existing media environment and thus allows students to realize and leverage the existing media environment, i.e. push students beyond media literacy so that students can start leverage the media for themselves

To relate this to the quote above, what I really appreciate and admire about both Wesch and Rheingold is that they don’t make assumptions about students. Rather, they recognize that young students may have engaged with social media in very superficial and non-critical ways, if they use social media tools at all. Rather, they recognize that in order to become viable participants, digital denizens, or employees in the growing knowledge economy, students need to be equipped with digital literacy skills. As creativity, collaboration, and participation are essential for new media participatory cultures, both Wesch and Rheingold offer potential aggregated platforms that can support these learning activities.

“…we are, in a sense, interactive story tellers, trusted digital guides, interpreters of facts, and experiences,…this is the new epistemology of the social web for information professionals…”

~ Dean Giustini

I found Sir Ken Robinson’s Creative Places + Spaces video titled Collaboration in the 21st Century to be especially inspiring. Author of the books The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything and Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, Robinson is a lead promotor of creativity and innovation in education and the workplace. I had such an “aha!” moment during his talk, that I found myself taking notes, and writing down nearly every word he said. This is his initial description of creativity:

“one of the reasons  so many people loose confidence in their own powers of innovation is that their imaginations have been left to wither, but they can be revived…Creativity is a step on from imagination because you can be imaginative all day long and never do anything…to be creative you have to do something. Being creative is a process of putting your imagination to work, you can think of it as applied imagination…”

He goes on to define creativity as:

  1. a process that we can understand and teach to others, “most people start with an idea and have to work on it, and the idea evolves in the process of it being formulated and often the idea you end up with is not the idea you started with”
  2. something that is original, novel, unique or different from previous ideas
  3. something that has value, because “some creative ideas are highly original but useless…and very often people misjudge the value of a new idea, because they apply the wrong values to it, they apply their present values to it rather than seeing how they might evolve. I mean, nobody would have given much for the internet 20 years ago as an idea…”

After Robinson’s initial video, I did a bit of exploring and discovered his TED Talk titled Schools Kill Creativity, and this video doubled, maybe even tripled, my initial “aha”. In this video, Robinson argues that as a society we tend to educate our people out of creativity. Here is an excerpt from the video:

“…the hierarchy [of education] is rooted on two ideas. Number one, that the most useful [school] subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that…don’t do music, you not going to be a musician, don’t do art, you won’t be an artist, benign advice… The second is academic ability which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think about it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. The consequence is that many highly talented -brilliant- creative people, think that they are not. Because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized, and I think that we can’t afford to go on that way…”

Public education values disciplines that either support the job market or the academy, thus leaving people who are unable to fulfill these values by the wayside. Admittedly, this is a rather depressing outlook, but I must say that (based on my own experiences) I have to agree with Robinson. The costs are high for students who fall prey to this system and for students who fall out of the system and, as a result, those who drop out of the system come to conclude that they aren’t valuable contributors or good at anything.

So, following that rather depressing video I found Tim Browns TED Talk on Creativity and Play and it offered a bit of hope and a breath of fresh air. Brown’s very simple and straightforward argument is that creativity and play in the workplace is valuable, generative, important, and should be consistently supported. Workplaces should encourage and support divergent play in order to generate as many initial ideas as possible and converge those initial ideas toward the aims and goals of the project. It’s creative play within a certain context and within a few paramaters that can bring about wonderful innovations.

Now, what does all of this have to do with information organizations, information professionals, and social media? I think that information organizations and information professionals can take quite a bit of inspiration from these talks when considering the potential use of social media to support creativity in learning, and innovation in the workplace.  As Henry Jenkins mentions in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Cultures: Media Education for the 21st Century, new media skills that can be supported in participatory cultures include play, performance, simulation, and appropriation, all skills that support creativity and innovation.

Dynamic social media has the potential to support various learning types and creative engagement. What can be taken away from Brown’s talk, is that creativity and play in work environments support innovation and creative problem solving. Can information professionals adapt his process of creativity and play in order to develop project ideas or problem-solve within the organization? What sort of social media tools could be used to support innovative creativity and play? Finally, to relate these ideas back to the quote above, what role does creativity play in the new epistemology of information professionals?

I think that these are all very important questions to consider, and I think that if we are to continue to ignore the importance of creativity and play in learning and workplace environments, we run the risk of being left on the outside of the global trend toward participatory cultures.

On Contribution

I’ll admit that I had a difficult time coming up with something to blog about with this week’s topic. In all honesty, my initial reaction was, “Of course collaboration is important and benefits information professionals!” but after reflecting a bit more I realized that my own experiences with collaboration have been variable, some were great and some were less than great.

Collaboration depends on involvement and contribution, and my best experiences with collaborative projects were when everyone was pitching in for a common goal, held themselves responsible for completing that goal, and held themselves responsible for their own contributions. I don’t wish to go into detail about my experiences when a collaborative project hadn’t gone well [and don’t worry group, I believe that our course Wiki completely rocked and was a great example of good collaboration!] but I would like to discuss what has been problematic for some of my collaborative projects in the past.

In my experience, collaboration hasn’t worked well when the goal of the project is not clear for everyone involved. Or, when the goal is understood, sometimes because of various factors (work, other classes, life, etc.) people aren’t able to contribute as much as others, and this is of course understandable and unavoidable. Other times, I’ve found collaborative projects to be complicated by distance or misunderstandings via online interactions, which might have been remedied by setting aside some face-to-face or voice-to-voice communications, which with distance collaborators can be difficult or near impossible. Lastly, the most frustrating complications with collaboration for me have been when I’ve found myself in the sole leadership/director position rather than in a position to share leadership responsibilities with everyone. This last aspect has only happened on a couple of occasions, but have been at times when others’ contributions were minimal.

Collaboration on projects works best when everyone is present, available, and ready, willing, and interested in contributing. Social media can support good collaboration and can help peers or colleagues in various locations and time zones to construct virtual or online objects. But I think that for collaboration to work well among people there needs to be trust, responsibility, concise communication, self-motivation, self-direction, empathy, a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt, a willingness to ask important or clarifying questions, and an ability to stay positive and keep the common goals, purpose, mission, values, etc. in mind.

It also helps when people are really happy to be there and happy to contribute. In a past life, I was a manager at a coffee house for 5 years and it was far easier to get people to help out with planning for a party or a fun event than it was to get them to complete a cleaning project or restock the inventory. If people care about the goal, mission, or values of a project they are far more likely to fully contribute or go beyond the minimal tasks.

On Context

I do think that collaboration depends on context to a certain extent, especially in online and virtual spaces. To give a personal example, back in 2009/2010 I contributed to a collaborative research development project. Basically, the idea of the project was to move the process of researching and gathering historical information to an online environment. The stages of the research process were initially formulated as: initial notes, cross listed files on persons, places, events, or organizations, and the final published product which was  a collection of biographies, summaries, and detailed information entries in monograph form. The project got as far as an initial online prototype that was a cross between a wiki and a database.

What was most interesting about assisting with the design of this collaborative space was the levels of publicness or privacy that would be permitted. The historian I was working with stressed that everything must be kept in a private space, with only permitted members, and that the only content that might be viewable by the public would be the final, well researched and publishable entries. This comes to my point, that what is permissible and acceptable as collaboration depends on context. In this case, an open Wikipedia-like collaboration space was unacceptable, and publicly available social media was out of the question.  Collaboration was only acceptable in a private online space among fellow colleagues, researchers, and research assistants, and not viewable or accessible to others.

On Clay Shirky

Lastly, I’d like to share some thoughts on Clay Shirky’s TED Talk video, Institutions versus Collaboration. In this 2005 video, Shirky compares and contrasts the institutional model of project management and the collaborative model that is possible with social media technologies. One of Shirky’s points is that, to a certain extent, collaborative spaces erode the traditional institutional model. Being that it is now 2011, I was wondering how relevant these points are today, and came across this article, Social Media versus Institutions discussing the same ideas in 2009. It seems then, that some organizations and institutions are still trying to make sense of networked collaboration and how to make it work in what was traditionally hierarchical and modular environments.

What does it mean for libraries to be a part of participatory culture?

In Henry Jenkins’ study titled “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” he defines participatory culture as:

  • a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  • strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  • some type of informal mentorship, where experience is passed along to novices
  • members believe their contributions matter
  • members feel some degree of social connection with one another
  • members believe that they are free to contribute when ready and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued

He goes on to say that participatory cultures can provide new media skills that build on traditional skills of literacy, research, technological competences, and critical analysis, as well as provide collaboration, networking and community involvement.

Although, the version number “2.0” has come to be synonymous with social media, interactivity, participation, engagement, collaboration, and networking in the marketing and online worlds, ultimately I don’t think that the number matters unless the culture, philosophy, and participatory structures are there. For example, in the chapter titled “Participatory Services and the Long Tail” in Library 2.0, Casey & Savastinuk emphasize the need to build participatory tools and mechanisms into the structures of libraries for both users and nonusers, and in this way libraries can harness the power of users to enhance library services. However, it’s important to keep in mind that participatory cultures do not magically appear when libraries add blogs, tagging features, or a Facebook profile to their library website. As Sarah Houghton-Jan, the Librarian in Black, states in “Organization 2.0”:

“Many people treat technology like it’s free like beer but it is really free like kittens…they take maintenance, ongoing effort, and staff time.  If you have one person alone who is managing technology for the library, then you’re in a bad space.  If that person gets hit by a bus then no one else can take it over and the library is in big trouble.  Just doing the hot new thing for the sake of it is not helpful and does not serve our users best … Why does social software fail?  The use of social software is not seen as furthering the library’s mission.  It’s treated as someone’s pet project.  It’s not planned for strategically like other technologies.  Once the newness wears off, people are less motivated to contribute.”

It takes work to facilitate and support a participatory culture, not simply social media and Web 2.0 technologies, and unfortunately some libraries seem to be pretty far behind the trend that is quickly becoming a commonplace expectation. As David Lankes strategically argues,  libraries and information professionals need to be where the conversation is.

As a young up and coming information professional, I would even go so far as to argue that it isn’t simply a matter of going beyond the “brick and mortar” libraries to where the users are online, it’s about re-structuring libraries to meet a paradigmatic shift in social and cultural expectations. It’s not about catching up with technologies, it’s about training, strategizing, teaching/informing, (re)developing, (re)structuring, and being significant stakeholders in emerging and contemporary information ecologies. Libraries should not need to advertise or convince users that they are “2.0” and instead they should start seriously thinking about how to become fully integrated into the future of participatory cultures.

“Blogging requires an embrace of hazards, a willingness to fall off the trapeze rather than fail to make the leap” ~ Andrew Sullivan

My first blogging experiences happened when I was a high school student back in the late 1990’s. This was before Facebook, MySpace, or LiveJournal, before cellphones became as commonplace as lunch pails, when AOL still ruled the web and high speed broadband was a luxury that most could not afford. I know that I’m making myself sound old and sage-like when it comes to social media, but todays online technologies are deeply steeped in generational rhetorics and, quite frankly, I believe that each of us has used and encountered social media technologies at different points in our lives, with different levels of importance, with different affects, different uses, different commitments, and different concerns.

Part of my short trek into nostalgia-land is to bring attention to some of the similarities and differences between, for example, the earlier days of blogging and blogging today. Early proto-blogging platforms like OpenDiary and LiveJournal paved the way for the commonplace blogging platforms, Blogger and WordPress. Back then blogging was much more personal and akin to maintaining a diary (as many of you may be familiar with from first hand experience). There was a greater degree of anonymity and there was less of a journalistic or magazine readership feel compared to the professional bloggers of today.

I have, as I’m sure you would imagine, grown a great deal from my early teenage years and usage of social media. I dropped the OpenDiary account by the time I graduated high school, and since then had made various half hearted attempts at blogging. I tried blogging/journaling about my personal thoughts and reflections, and quickly deleted the account. I tried blogging about food, literature, or pop culture but felt like I was trying to be too much like a journalist interested in gaining a particular niche readership. All of these attempts never really got past one or two posts.

To a certain extent, my trepidations around blogging also had to do with concerns about my own personal style and tone. I tend to write and speak in a somewhat analytic and academic tone. This might be because I spent the majority of my early twenties in philosophy and rhetoric courses, or it might be because I idolized, worshiped, and modelled myself after Janeane Garofalo in my formative years, either way I’ve worried from time-to-time that my tone can be a bit initially intimidating. In actuality, and this might come as a surprise to acquaintances, I’m a bit of an introvert and am not always as sure of my thoughts, opinions, and writing as I seem.

As a formative information professional, I feel that there is another call for blogging: to maintain professional interests, contacts with colleagues, and provide a central medium or archive of your opinions and well informed critical reflections on issues, topics, and events that are pertinent to your field. I’ve become much more interested in blogging and managing my social media networks toward these professional goals. However, balancing the management of these information productions and flows can be time consuming and difficult along side a full-time course load.

All my wannabe blogger ambitions aside, I do think that the medium of blogging has had a rather interesting relationship to both print media and other forms of social media. Andrew Sullivan‘s 2008 article, Why I Blog, offers some interesting insights on the positionality of bloggers and blogging (not to mention very quotable prose). At one point he discusses the personal origins and nature of blogging:

“What endures is a human brand…It stems, I think, from the conversational style that blogging rewards. What you want in a conversationalist is as much character as authority. And if you think of blogging as more like talk radio or cable news than opinion magazines or daily newspapers, then this personalized emphasis is less surprising. People have a voice for radio and a face for television. For blogging, they have a sensibility.”

I find it intriguing that he relates bloggers more to radio or television personalities rather than op ed writers or journalists. I agree that there is much more of a conversational tone and expectation to blogging, that is somewhat present in radio, but I feel that it is far less present in the more broadcast based medium of television. What I find most intriguing about his description of blogging, is how he relates the tone and style of writing to the medium:

“Reading at a monitor, at a desk, or on an iPhone provokes a querulous, impatient, distracted attitude, a demand for instant, usable information, that is simply not conducive to opening a novel or a favorite magazine on the couch. Reading on paper evokes a more relaxed and meditative response. The message dictates the medium. And each medium has its place—as long as one is not mistaken for the other.”

Each medium has it’s place, and the message dictates the medium. Having been repeatedly reintroduced to Marshall Mcluhan‘s ideas, primarily with The Medium is the Massage, I found this section to be particularly thought provoking. I believe that Sullivan is saying, that even though the medium affects the reader, the nature of the message dictates the appropriate medium. Blogging works best for up-to-date immediate reactions, interpretations, and opinions on an event or article, that can satiate an immediate desire for information. However, you would not look for this sort of content in a novel or academic journal.

However, despite the immediacy with which he describes blogging, I do think that blogging’s sensibility has become remolded or repositioned since the widespread use of Twitter. This blog post by Joe Manna places Twitter among terms such as instant gratification, accountability, and conversation, whereas blogging is described as verbosefulfilling, longer, and more detailed. I’ve come across this sort of comparison before, and I think it’s important to keep in mind the relationships between various social media, as well as between print and “new media.”

I’d like to end (this rather long post) with a few more quotes on blogging by Sullivan:

“[A blogger] is—more than any writer of the past—a node among other nodes, connected but unfinished without the links and the comments and the track-backs that make the blogosphere, at its best, a conversation, rather than a production.”

“To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others…pivot you toward relative truth.”

“[A blogger] can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but [she] also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.”


This is my introductory blog post to LIBR 559M: Social Media for Information Professionals.

My name is Michele Ramos, and I’ve just finished my first term at UBC and have been enjoying my experiences here in Vancouver. I’m a bit of a noobie when it comes to today’s social media, however I did have an OpenDiary back in the day (and this was pre-LiveJournal)!

Here is my still-pretty-new Twitter and Flickr feed. I also have a fairly long standing Facebook profile (which I created after the great exodus from MySpace) and I have a blog and linked in profile in the works (you can find a link to these from my twitter). Also, if it helps to have these links all on one place, and you’d like to know more about me, here is my online profile for another course I am taking this summer.

Lately I’ve been interested in using  social media as a means of “building my digital reputation” (borrowed from the syllabus) and I’ve started modeling my social media usage after a couple librarian bloggers: Librarian In Black and Lauren in Libraryland.

Overall I am pretty excited about using social media and the value of social networking and engagement.

This is the blog I will be using for the course. The previous posts are all from LIBR 500: Foundations of Information Technology in March 2011.