In Support and Extension of “An Unformed Thought” by Mick Jacobsen

In Mick Jacobsen’s post, “An Unformed Thought,” in which he discussed the possibility of libraries acting as a hub for information technology needs such as website design and hosting, he hit on a core value of librarianship – community building.  As we strive to build library spaces that are usable and promote interaction and collaboration, we naturally try to enhance interpersonal connections and create conversations that connect our patrons either to us or other users.  And the conversation in the past couple of years has advanced this thought into our online spaces but with a reliance on preexisting technologies like social networks.  Mick, and I in response to Mick, are wondering what more we can do as librarians to advance these online connections.  What web services can we offer as libraries, as hubs of the community, to better carve out community space and information services?  It’s a change in thought from reactive online community building to the proactive.

Clearly there is a reliance on technology with this conversation.  I’d like, however, to hold off on this until a bit later.

Our core values in librarianship revolve around providing information services and we do that quite well.  Cecily Walker comments on Mick’s post:

While we may know a great deal about the organization of information and how that relates to information architecture, and while we understand user behaviour and user needs, the fact remains that web development isn’t really a core competency that is stressed in most LIS curricula at this moment.

Cecily points out that we already have the skill sets in place, sans web development, and as I interpret it we’re some of the most qualified professionals to enact such proactive web initiatives.  I’ve stated in conversations that, yes, I do believe that web development does need to become a core competency in LIS education, but just because it has yet to become so does not mean that we don’t have LIS professionals or students willing to take up the mantle or teach their professional colleagues what it takes.  If anything, librarianship is a teaching mob – a scan of Twitter conversations, LIS blog posts, and e-mail lists shows how much we like to teach what we know and share our ideas.

There is a concern that becoming an online community organizer or website developer adds yet another hat onto our heads to wear everyday.  This is true from a certain perspective.  Speaking from my own, the roles I am handed and those that I volunteer for are always of a hybrid nature.  Refusing the hard and fast allows me to think collaboratively, work uniquely, and experience more in my career.

Reflect on your collective arsenal of skill sets.  If you and your library choose to create and host community websites, and Mick and I so hope you do, take stock of what your staff can and cannot do.  Be honest with yourselves about what you feel can be accomplished and supported without denying the opportunity to learn more.  As with any project, assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of hosting community websites.

Mick and I understand that offering professional grade web development services will, for nearly all libraries, be unattainable.  Creating web applications, iPhone and Android apps, and mesmerizingly beautiful community websites is not what we’re after.  And if he and I are honest with ourselves we would state that this train of thought about hosting for the community is in reaction to the current state of the Web.  We both recognize that (and here comes the technology…) content management systems like Drupal and WordPress now offer easy, secure, and pleasing ways to create quick and usable websites.  Hosting, as well, takes little to no knowledge to create subdomains and register new domains with intuitive web-based dashboards and panels at a low cost for initiatives we’re talking about.

As a profession we have most, some have all, of the skill sets in place to successfully serve our communities, the organizations within, and their information needs in new and unique ways.  We hope you see this opportunity in the same light we do.

TTW Contributor: Kyle Jones
@thecorkboard / thecorkboard

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2 thoughts on “In Support and Extension of “An Unformed Thought” by Mick Jacobsen”

  1. You said:

    “Hosting, as well, takes little to no knowledge to create subdomains and register new domains with intuitive web-based dashboards and panels at a low cost for initiatives we’re talking about.”

    That’s what is involved with maintaining your own personal hosting account on a web server. However, much, much more is involved with maintaining a web server that will house dozens of community websites.

    I am not pooh-poohing your original idea. I know very well how important it is to refresh and update the core competencies of librarians/LIS students. I once worked as a web hosting administrator, and I’ve worked on the web in some form or fashion for the last 16 years or so. I know that people who have the skillset that I have are hard to come by in our profession, although more and more people with web experience are making the leap to librarianship. Yay, for that! I say.

    But what I’ve also come to understand is that libraries, especially public libraries like my own, are extremely overtaxed, and expecting staff to develop the core competencies to be well-versed in web production is a large hurdle. I would rather devote the time to teaching LIS students/staff just enough to be dangerous, while focusing more on teaching them the language and terminology so that they can talk to systems/server administrators/web hosting companies, etc. in a language that these more technical people can understand.

    As community hubs, I wish libraries would work more toward forming partnerships with other businesses who can provide these services to us. In the end, by working more closely with the developers/designers who are experts in areas where we fall short, we would reduce the time required to develop website projects, regardless of how small/how large they are.

    There are many roles involved with bringing a website to life, as I’m sure you know. Until we can reach a critical mass of developer librarians, what I’d like to see is LIS programs start to focus on web project management skills, information architecture, usability, and user experience, the soft — but necessary — skills that don’t require a great deal of technical know-how.

    I’ve enjoyed the conversation.

  2. Cecily-

    Maybe I should clarify. Using shared hosting via reputable hosts like Dreamhost (who I use and recommend) would be an excellent way to host a a dozen, to a few dozen community sites – maybe more. The resources that these sites will incur will be minimal and the costs will still be low. Yes, maintaining your own hardware and admin-ing it as well does take a certain kind of soul that is a bit rare in our profession (it also takes more of an upfront investment).

    I agree with you completely – even if we don’t do this, being able to talk and understand a conversation about it is an important skill set.

    Flipping the design role onto a community partner is an interesting switch. I would tend to think this would be less likely than libraries doing it themselves. As services go, we’re used to offering a lot and getting little in return – businesses, not so much.

    Here, here! to the soft skills you mention and to hoping that LIS programs start to recognize the value of, say, a dual MLIS/CS degree.

    I, too, have enjoyed the conversation!

    Many thanks,
    ~kyle~

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