Category Archives: Open Conversation Column

Open Conversation: The Encourager, the Connector, the Learner

From Michael – This is a reprint of a column originally published last year in Digitale Biblioteek.

“On average, students in online learning conditions per- formed better than those receiving face-to-face instructi- on”. That was the conclusion of an authoritative report by SRI International commissioned by the US Ministry of Education. The New York Times wrote about it on August 24th: “The report examined the comparative research for on- line versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military”2. Michael Stephens recognized much in the report from his own teaching experiences and wrote his reflections on the subject in an inspiring article on the ALA Techsource website. Here is where our conversation starts:

Jan: I like your concluding statement: “library education should be based on an understanding of the foundations of our profession with a huge serving of learning by doing”. The way you teach your own students shows the many benefits from a blended online/live approach under the supervision of an inspirational coach. Your statement also confirms my experiences with the library staff here in Haarlem Netherlands who have followed the blended Learning 2.0 course. They experienced Learning 2.0 as a joyous adventure and augmented their skills rapidly by doing, improvising and asking online and live feed- back from their coach & fellow students. The course provided them much more pleasure than they experienced from former more traditional library training programs. I’m glad the SRI report confirms that blended learning methods using the possibilities of interaction and conversation from web2.0 applications gives students using the apps a lead. The conclusions in the report and the experiences you wrote about on your blog tell me a lot about the future of learning. I agree fully with you but I also have a question. Isn’t this kind of learning very much dependent on someone who is capable of facilitating the group: a real leader of the tribe.

Michael: Great question. I’m glad your staff at Haarlem excelled in their Learning 2.0 experience and I did pick up on your mention of a coach. I wonder if having a coach for 2.0 learning experiences adds value and motivates participants. I would tend to think it does – a leader, a coach, a mentor, a guide – all can serve the same purpose. What follows is this question: how do we identify and encourage leaders in our profession without simply funneling anyone and everyone who’s been in a library awhile up to management. A coach or leader does not have to be a manager as well. I’d look for these attributes for both learning experiences and team-based work groups in our libraries:

An Encourager: sometimes with new technology or emerging systems, we need a little ‘hand holding’. That might simply be words of encouragement or gentle pushes. This person also encourages and then steps aside to let the the team excel.

A Connector: someone who can facilitate a group to make connections between learning and practice or real world scenarios. Also, this leader connects people within organisations and lets those connections grow.

A Learner in his/her own right: this leader of the tribe is also a continual learner. The minute someone steps back and says ‘I don’t need to understand this’, the encouragement and connections falter.

Jan: The urgent question you ask here makes a challenging con- clusion to this little conversation: “How do we identify and encou- rage leaders in our profession without simply funneling anyone and everyone who’s been in a library awhile up to management. A coach or leader does not have to also be a manager”.

Let’s explore that question thoroughly in our libraries. dib

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?

Open Conversation: Learning 2.0

From Michael – This is a reprint of a column originally published last year in Digitale Biblioteek.

Michael Stephens and Jan Klerk pick up their Twitter conversation again talking about Learning 2.0, education and what librarians should do in the future.

Spreading All Over the World

JK As u described in your research proposal, Learning2.0 has become a worldwide phenomenon. It’s also very popular in Dutch libraries.

MS I am very excited about the Aussie Learning 2.0 research ? I would be very interested to expand to the Netherlands next!

MS Because I’ve watched the programs blossom from afar. Rob Coers should be commended for his assistance 2 all those libraries.

JK You’re right. @robcoers did a great job scaling up the program to all Dutch library districts & still more libraries participating.

The Struggle to Be Open

JK But much newly educated librarians have difficulties with being really open. Showing & sharing their knowledge with face & name.

JK Is this temporary? or 2 be taken for granted? How can we encourage library staff to share openly with colleagues & patrons?

MS Interesting. In US, many LIS students do contribute under their name and work at establishing themselves/networking.

JK That makes a difference I think. Suppose your students are digital natives whereas our librarians are mostly Gen Baby Boom & GenX. MS Why the difficulties being open? Concerns me ? new librarians will guide the future of Dutch libraries.

JK There are actually very few new library students in the Netherlands. We have to motivate our current librarians to be open.

MS Ah! This is slightly different. Established staff should not be timid about engaging with users. Get past that and focus on encouraging interaction ? inviting users to participate as much as possible. It should not be taken for granted.

A Research Program in Australia

JK U make me curious about the Aussie research. Can you give some details?

MS We’re doing a national survey of all library staff that have participated in a L2.0 program to gauge impact.

MS Also working with case study library to measure before the program and after. Hopefully measure same for university lib too.

MS Deliverable: model 4 exemplary Learning 2.0 program de- veloped 4 Aus libraries based on evidence & success of test libraries.

MS Deliverable: a list of exemplary practice for conducting such a program.

MS Deliverable: articulated examination of impact of L2.0 pro- grams on test libs yieldingmodel of impact for field at large.

JK When U talked about gauging the impact of the Aussie L2.0 programs did you mean measuring competences or also changed mentality?

MS We’re focusing on measuring changed mentality toward learning, exploration and new things using ?s about transparency, etc.

A New Library School in the Netherlands

JK The Dutch library innovator Rob Bruynzeels is establishing a new Library Academy focused on ‘learning2watch differently’.

JK based upon reaching ‘excellence’, seeking as much as possible different angles in librarianship e.g. the artist, the dramaturge.

MS How will the new program be different?

JK The program of the new Library School has not been made public yet so I don’t know the details. JK But our library collaborates in a pilot program which has2deliver new learning methods 4 the new Library School. JK We make eg. use of an artist. She tries in a series of 10 work- shops 2 tap the hidden creativity of a small group of our librarians.

MS If you asked me what librarians should focus on for the future at this moment in time? I’d say: Creativity, Curiosity & Collaboration – in everything we do! :-)

JK This beautiful statement makes a nice conclusion to this dialogue. Thnx! dib


1 Michael Stephens: Measuring the value and effect of Learning2.0 programs in libraries.

2 2009-caval-visiting-scholar

Open Conversation: Twitter & Libraries

Note: This is the second column I co-wrote with Jan Klerk for Digitale Bibliotek last year. I realized it was one of the first times I’ve discussed the backchannel in my classes in print.

Michael Stephens and Jan Klerk did their open conversation this time on microblog platform Twitter. The topic was of course…

Twitter and Libraries.


MS Jan- I’ve been thinking about librarians using Twitter as medium 4 collaboration & as info space. Have u seen this?

JK I see a small but growing group Dutch librarians just over- came prejudices & are experimenting. How it’s in the USA?


MS I see librarians using Twitter in 3 ways: as a thriving commentary/community, as a useful tool & as a question space.

MS As commentary/community, we might look at the use of #ALAMW09 as a means to network, plan and state opini- ons.

MS As a useful tool to save time, my favorite example is UGL alerts and @askundergrad2

JK Yes, the UGL is a nice example of smart timesaving distribution.

MS 3rd area is monitoring Twittersphere 4 ?s to answer & using the space as info resource if ?s asked we need to be here.

JK I think your categorization is very enlightening I also see librarians use Twitter interconnecting different social networks.

JK In this way Twitter is a very smart & fast way to distribute the same information simultaneously on different platforms.

JK Aggregating reactions from different platforms in 1 email account makes it easy to communicate either with patrons or staff.

JK The way Twitter=used at #ALAMW09 2 share sad feelings about the tragic loss of colleagues is very touching & adds value.

MS Yes, the human factor comes through the medium strongly to convey the sadness & shock at losing colleagues.


MS Also as LIS educator this fascinates me (Twitter as a Learning Tool)

JK The idea of using Twitter as a question space I think=challenging. Could this replace existing Q&A services?

MS Maybe not replace Q&A but become part of the channels where questions are asked & info is sought. I think it’s fluid.


JK We talked about channels yesterday & monitoring them. How can libraries take part in the fast growing amount of channels?

MS I suggest librarians do a scan of the multiple channels & find the spaces where folks might be mentioning the library.

JK I agree & finding spaces where folks mention the library=the job4 our marketeers. Instead of our usual shooting in the dark.

MS Using @briansolis’s conversation prism is a good start but it can also be overwhelming until you jump in and explore.

MS Checkout the prism here (


JK I think I could use the prism as starting point to renew traditional services into build-in participatory services.

JK I mean that the conversational aspect is always build-in in every library service you want to develop.

MS I like that thinking. I wish more libs did that here. One barrier is a marketing/PR mindset not open to conversation.

MS Or open to allowing users to chime in, contribute, create & guide those new/rebooted services. We must listen/reply!


JK Sounds challinging2useTwitter as backchannel during classes. Can u trust your pupils? Or is it a matter of radical trust.

MS Is indeed a matter of radical trust ? if I am doing my job well & trusting them to do theirs well 2 then we are fine.

JK I like this! It’s simple, it’s clear, it keeps you going. We libraries should make this our mission statement!

MS Look at what Pima County Lib in Arizona did: Users made vids!

JK In the Netherlands some schools have forbidden their pupils to use social networks during classes.

MS It concerns me that schools (& libs!) are blocking access 2 social networks when they could be used in the edu process.

JK I have the impression that relationship between school & libraries as institute&pupils as group=often based on distrust.

MS I agree. In many cases students are not trusted or must be protected from ‘the big bad world!’ in school.

MS In libraries distrust is probably contributing factor 4 unwelcoming youth spaces & adversarial attitudes of librarians.


MS This has been fun to play out this discussion using Twitter. I hope our readers will try it out.

1 ALA Midwinter Meeting 2009 upcoming/midwinter/home.cfm Helaas geeft niet langer de conversatie weer die hoorde bij de ALA Midwinter Meeting en die onder de hashtag #alamw09 is gepubliceerd
2 Twitteraccount ‘Undergraduate Library’ van de University of Illinois
3 Undergraduate Library
4 Pat Callagan:TwitterasaLearningTool

Open Conversation: Transparency

Note from Michael: I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but I’ve been writing a column for a Dutch library magazine called Digitale Bibliotheek with Jan Klerk, Librarian at City Library of Haarlem Netherlands. Our editor, Karolien Selhorst, has given me the go ahead to republish the columns here. We write and publish these pieces in English. Called “Open Conversation,” the articles give Jan and I a chance to discuss all sorts of topics related to libraries, technology and trends. This first column, published last spring, centered around the Transparent Library:

n596730885_2531Hi Michael,

I’ve read your beautiful and very inspiring series about the Transparent Library with Michael Casey in Library Journal. In the series’ first article you wrote: “What prevents a library from being transparent? Barriers. Roadblocks. Inability to change. The culture of perfect. The transparent library contains three key elements: open communication, adapting to change, and scanning the horizon. We’ll explore these ideas and offer solutions for those struggling with new models of service, technology, and a decidedly opaque climate. The web has changed the old landscape of top-down decisions.”

“As the web becomes the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier in history, consumers learn to trust peers more and companies less,” said Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail. “And as the same trends play out within the firm, businesses are shifting from command and control to ‘out of control,’ distributing more and more power to the rank and file.”

I fully agree with what you write in this article. We librarians sometimes have problems with adapting to this rapidly changing world. Things we used to be good at – like for example, servicing reliable information, being the portal to all the information of the world, advising people on good literature – have either been taken over by Google or have become issues, which can be easily solved in our digital social network environment. I think there is some awareness in Dutch public libraries of the urgency to change but there is much more discussion about change than there is real change. Furthermore, ‘library innovation’ as we call it here is foremost a strongly centralised and top-down organised process. In the Netherlands we are still far away from the transparent, bottom-up organised participatory ideal you described so eloquently in your transparency series. Because we librarians in the Netherlands are new to the subject I think we need some introduction on this urge for transparency. Can you tell something more about your motivation to write so extensively about transparency. And where should we begin in creating more transparent libraries?


Hi Jan,

I’m glad to be having this conversation with you in Digitale Bibliotheek. The motivation that I believe both Michael and I felt was two fold: discussions of what Library 2.0 could be were spinning in all directions, mainly focused on using blogs or other tools in libraries, and some great thinkers were creating a strong dialogue about change and society. Library 2.0 is much more than adding a blog to the library website, it’s a philosophy of service built on three components: constant change, participatory service and mindful evaluation. Involving users in planning new and improved library services, breaking down barriers to participation and recognizing the need to assess process and ‘what we’ve always done’ are important factors as well. I am not saying we throw out all of the old for the new, but that we look closely at what we do to see if new technologies and new mindsets can make things more seamless, open and honest.

The great thinkers are many in my book. I rely on them to influence my thinking, teaching and research focus. The Cluetrain Manifesto (Weinberger, Searles, Levine and Locke) is a seminal work – way ahead of its time. It forecasted where we would be in 2009 with this great, global conversation. I love that fact that librarians in the Netherlands and in the United States can share at such a level. Just exploring the Flickr stream of DOK is one example of how easily these data can flow.

Most recently, I’m entranced by Seth Godin’s Tribes. Godin encourages everyone to lead a tribe. What tribe could libra- ries and librarians lead? It seems like it might be a useful path to follow: leading a tribe in the library or online. More so, Godin stresses innovation, the power of the ‘everyperson’ to contribute and the pitfalls of not looking forward. All of these things should be part of a transparent library’s mission!