Librarians as social curators

I’ve had good conversations with staff at our public libraries over the past several weeks. The similarities between the goals of next-generation libraries and the Compass Commons model are obvious and immediate. However, getting there is not.

Busy Browsing and chatting at Mediamatic Distributed Library by Willem Velthoven

On the one hand, we have countless examples of controlled, high-quality online media from professional curators in journalism, academia, publishing, and libraries. On the other hand, we have the unmoderated stream of millions of tweets and status updates each day.

How do we provide a social curation model that allows multiple levels of curation while identifying the amount of attention that has gone into each nugget of shared knowledge. The devil is in the details.

Our two local libraries –  Curtis Memorial in Brunswick and Topsham Public — are among the finest local libraries I’ve ever used, and one of the important factors we considered when moving to midcoast Maine.

Marian Dalton of Curtis pointed out to me a significant 2007 paper from the American Library Association and Syracuse University School of Information Studies. “Participatory Networks: The Library as Conversation” presented a broad approach to library services, one that redefines the library as a conversation facilitator, bringing people and knowledge resources together, whether they reside within the library walls or in the community.

“Conversation theory posits that individuals, organizations, and even societies build knowledge through conversation; specifically, by interacting and building commonly held agreements. Since libraries are in the knowledge business, they are also in the conversation business.

“If libraries focused on conversations … there might be some clarity and cohesion between statistics and other outcomes. Suddenly, the number of reference questions can be linked to items cataloged, or to circulation numbers … they are all markers of the scope and scale of conversations within the library context. This approach might enable the library community to better identify its most important conversations and demonstrate direct contributions to these conversations across functions.”

I was struck by this model, but disappointed to find few online references to “participatory librarianship” after 2008. Was I simply looking in the wrong places? Has a new term come into vogue? Are there other, more pressing issues for the academic and public library communities? Please share your recommendations and observations.

In: Libraries, Partners, Web 2.0

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