quashing participation

Information professionals should be using social media if they care about the rest of the world. I mean, I’m a fan of cataloguing in a cave, but engaging with your community is important. Even if you’re the most locally focused librarian ever in a community where none of your users give a shit about Twitter it’s important to be using it to pull in information and to show off the knowledge being created in your community.

One thing we learned in our Community-Led libraries course with Beth Davies and Annette de Faveri was the importance of not coming into a space with an agenda. Not showing up and saying “Here are some awesome things the library can do for you!” but hanging out and asking what is happening with them, letting the community lead the library. That takes a long time. I think participating online requires a bit more push than that, because if you’re just hanging out as a library, not talking on Twitter, you’re invisible (in a way you aren’t when you’re sitting in a halfway house with a box of donuts).

I also think the idea of a limit to our participation in social media is stupid. I mean, sure, posting pictures of patrons on Facebook without their permission is a bit sketchy. But stopping information professionals from being part of the world just because of who their employers are is bullshit.

A story from work: A library in Northern Australia was making use of some of Koha’s features to integrate a blog onto the front page of the OPAC. The library staff were creating this information to participate in the wider world and were really proud of it. And then their Communications Department found out and shut it down. Not because of something bad that happened but because of stupid bureaucratic power disputes that said librarians aren’t authorized to create publications. That story makes me incredibly angry. To have participation curtailed by the communications department who wanted more control over messaging is kind of terrible.

Part of my visceral reaction to that story has to do with my personal history working at a public library that had a regressive attitude towards people talking about things online. I was disciplined for blogging about work on my personal time. The disciplinary hearing involved the director of our library telling me I was not fit to be a librarian and shouldn’t go to library school because of my disrespectful attitude. This experience led to my disclaimer/explanation page you can see linked to on my library blog’s of Opinions & Assholes page, and you can read some of my other ruminations about privacy and the like when that former library actually created a social media policy because of me. That link includes a response to a danah boyd article.

6 Responses (Add Your Comment)

  1. Okay. I agree with 100%. I’m gonna put why in the discussion thread. I’ve been meaning to drop a comment there for a few days but have been busy with this conference I’m running.

  2. I’ve been in a similar situation at work where different departments are forced to work against each other for the sake of their own best interests. It is very frustrating and the attitude of this communications department seems quite backward, but you have to wonder what the reaction would have been if the roles were reversed.

    Budget cutbacks abound. Every department within a given institution is trying to protect their own piece of the pie. If they are not proactive in establishing their own relevance they then face the very real possibility of redundancy.

    Where I worked the library staff was decimated by layoffs because they took their roles within the institution for granted. They didn’t focus and promote their own services to the other staff, so other employees took on tasks that the library staff could / should have been doing. So instead of reasserting the roles as they should be, library staff were just laid off.

    Obviously social media is something anyone can do and should not be limited to one department within an institution, but librarians seem to be expanding their skill sets into new areas, especially in regards to IT. It only makes sense that we might step on some toes in the process. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but we certainly should be mindful of the consequences for others, politically and economically.

  3. “Taking control of messaging” is a goal of communications and development departments in cultural/educational institutions that I also find detrimental, but I can understand the concerns from a certain perspective that is now outdated. Visitors and users will be LOST if these departments, and the bureaucracies which structure these hierarchies, do not get on the 2.0 bandwagon. If our institutional departments and buerocracies cannot handle this level of participation and social media interaction, what are they going to do as Generation Y and Z grow in a media-saturated environment? Become irrelevant and lose membership, pretty much.

  4. When technology allows people to “skip over” part of a previous internal process, power struggles often happen between departments. If, in order to have something printed, every department has to go through Communications, then that department feels it “owns” published materials, no matter who requests them. When any individual department can immediately publish online, Communications feels that its authority and responsibility for managing the library’s public presence has been usurped. Communications may also be worried that if another department does something “wrong” in what it publishes, the library management will still come down on Communications, because it’s their responsibility to manage the library’s public presence. It’s important for new policies to be created clearly defining how authority and responsibility are distributed on new media platforms – preferably before people put a lot of work into creating something that later has to be taken down.

  5. I get that they’re controlling messaging to control the organization’s image, and that those kinds of bullshit political disputes are a part of life.

    But if the goal is to be serving your community of users, fuck those petty politics right in the eye.

    I think that’s also where the culture of participation and being out there and public about what you do makes a difference. You have to engage and not just hide behind your desk so you have users who’ll back you when bullshit happens.

    So yes, participate in social media so you have a posse.


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