A Response to Web 2.0 & the Culture of Perfect

I gave a new talk at OLA last week called “Best Practices for Social Software,” based in part on my Library Technology Report and some new thinking I’ve been doing in response to all the incredible stuff happening in libraryland and in our 2.0 world. I want to write up the list and hope to get to that this week, but I was delighted to get a lengthy e-mail response to the talk. Patti writes about her thinking in response to some of the considerations of the Read/Write Web and has allowed me to publish it here:

Hi Michael,

A colleague of mine says that we always take away one key thing from a conference – your discussion of Web 2.0 was my one thing taken from this year’s Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto. I am an end career Children’s Librarian working in an administrative capacity for a multi branch county library system (rural). Our system has always been an enviable model of efficiency within the family of county libraries in Ontario. However, in the past couple of years, I have felt that a shift is happening out there in the ether – not only are many of our old procedures becoming out of date, our response time to change and innovation is no longer fast enough. I believe we have to change our very methods of responding to change if we are to remain a vital part of people’s lives…our methods of adapting have to change in kind not in degree …..and along you come with your Web 2.0….

The one phrase among many others in your presentation on Best Practices for Social Software that stayed with me and that has caused an avalanche of ideas is “Throw out the Culture of Perfect”. I was trying to come to grips with this concept in a discussion with my husband who teaches 12 and 13 year olds. He was saying that the kids he is around are struggling to understand their world – to define who they are and their place in the scheme of things. In order to do that, they must see the world as a static place – a ‘perfect’ place if you will. The majority of them will continue on for many years with this particular view of the world – in fact it may never change. The world will always be as the world was when they finally figured it out. George W. is an example of people who never get beyond a black and white, simplistic world view. This world is a very comfortable place to be and human beings have an infinite capacity to protect that world by ignoring any evidence that things are not as they perceive them to be.

But, for the very brightest among Geoff’s young students, a crack may appear in their perfect world – they may start to perceive that the world is never static – that there is no ‘present perfect’. For those who do recognize that reality is constant adaptation, the world of Web 2.0 is a reflection of the state of things in their worlds.

Your example of writing a Policy Manual hit particularly close to home for me. The ‘perfect’ way that we have always approached the task is replicated throughout institutions both public and private – a draft document is reviewed ad naseum by committee, then re-drafted to be criticized and changed again, eventually approved by the powers that be and finally enshrined in a document that carries as much weight as the tablets of Moses. To move from that process to a Web 2.0 based open living document that changes and alters to adjust to current thinking is quite simply beyond the comprehension of those black and white thinkers. It is not a case of them not understand the “how” of a blog-based Policy Manual – they can be trained in the steps required – but rather that the essential concept is incomprehensible.

So – if I (even at my advanced age) can grasp the beauty and truth of Web 2.0 – my challenge is to find a place within an institution that is well meaning, but unsure of how far to go down this new fork in the technological road. The excitement offered by this Brave New Web is tempered by the fact that I often feel like a voice in the wilderness. But, I am convinced that getting the thinking of institutional minds to the tipping point of acceptance is necessary to create a library environment that is (as you say) a social and emotionally engaging centre for learning and experience”.

To give the last point to my husband again – in the movie Dogma, God abhors belief. She doesn’t want people to have static and exclusive beliefs; ideas are what god loves. As long as you are thinking and having ideas your mind is alive and real. As soon as those ideas solidify into beliefs or Dogma, they are dead. Once human beings stop thinking, once we think we have reached a perfect world view…well then we are insulting god. Maybe this should be my argument when pitching the idea of a blog-based Policy Manual –it won’t work the first time I try it, but it may be one small step closer to reaching the tipping point.

Thanks for a very thought provoking seminar.

Patti Wallace
In snowy, cold Lakeside, Ontario