Open Conversation: Being Human

From Michael – This is a reprint of a column originally published last year in Digitale Biblioteek. It was very nice to finally meet Jan in person at UGUL10.

Jan: Hi Michael, I’ve read your long and rich Ten ways to encourage the tribe blogpost from the 17th of May. I think every librarian should read your story about how libraries and librarians can engage in and connect tribes or communities of shared interest. In this post you mention several important sources of inspiration, such as Peter Block, Howard Rheingold and Seth Godin. You also named the book The Cluetrain Manifesto. Influential as it may be for much of the web 2.0 and library 2.0 thinking in the US, in the Netherlands it has remained a relatively unknown document. Can you give a short introduc- tion to the content of the manifesto and explain why you think it is so important?

Michael: Hi Jan, I’ve written about The Cluetrain Manifesto often. I have used it in my teaching at Dominican in the Intro to LIS class as well as my Library 2.0 class. It has also influenced my presentations, especially The Hyperlinked Library. The authors: Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searles and David Weinberger created a perfect vision of the impact the internet would have on business presented as a manifesto for change. The online version opens with this statement:

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter ? and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

I don’t think many of us were aware at how the “blinding speed” of information delivery would change the nature of what we do in libraries back in the late 90s. The Cluetrain features 95 points/ theses that speak to the idea that “markets are conversations.” For example, point 90 says: “Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most trade shows, more en- tertaining than any tv sitcom, and certainly more true-to-life than the corporate web sites we’ve been seeing.”

The impact of the global conversation on the business world is most notable as well in the ten years since the Cluetrain was published.Featured concepts such as transparency, conversation, commu- nity, communication and the like were featured in The Cluetrain long before web 2.0 and library 2.0. The concepts are very real for libraries as well. I’ve long advocated for finding and participating in the conversation. Where Godin, Block and Rheingold come in is via their concepts of community building online. Gathering a smart mob (a Rheingold term) or a tribe and playing out a conversation about what users want from their library is a model of service that I believe would work well online and in person. The emphasis in the Cluetrain on being human sticks with me as well. “The human voice sounds human”. Stories and storytelling are ex- tensions of this. Sharing is part as well. These things create con- nections and brings people closer. Godin says in Tribes that people want to belong. People want to connect.

Jan: Hi Michael, The message you describe here looks almost deceptively simple and clear: just connect and interact as an individual with your patrons as a human being. Treat them as humans and not as members of an anonymous crowd. Share your knowledge and stories with them, join the conversation. I like it and I cannot more agree with you. But we have a long way to go in Dutch libraries since librarians have the greatest difficulties communicating with patrons, finding it difficult being just an acces- sible human expert with a recognizable face and voice. Better hide behind the walls of your organization and feel safe. Thinking technology and digitization will save us in the end. But things are changing. Some Dutch librarians have found their own voice building a small but growing tribe of soul mates all over the country. Maybe the financial crisis will help us a bit here. It compels us to look for smart and cheap solutions. And what’s more smart and cheap than just being a nice and open human being?

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