When Worlds Collide

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

As the buzz around social networking continues, consider that author Kevin Kelly has called the emerging web “One Machine” and predicts that “total personalization in this new world will require total transparency.”

So, where do we fit in? Where do we position ourselves as professionals? We two don’t completely agree, so we thought we’d try to tease out the relationship between personal/social transparency and library transparency.

MS: I think the line between the personal and the professional online has blurred so much recently that it’s impossible to separate them.

MC: Our worlds are colliding-I remember that George Costanza line from Seinfeld-and I’m not completely comfortable with it. Our personal lives on Flickr and Facebook mingle with our professional lives on LinkedIn, and everything is tossed into the Google blender. The social side of the Internet has merged our personal and professional lives and taken away a wall in which many took comfort.

Going with the flow
MS: I don’t mind that very much. In fact, I embrace a lot of it. I use Facebook to interact with students as well as with LIS colleagues and friends. I use Flickr to share the way I see the world-though I’m still surprised when someone at an American Library Association conference tells me they saw what I had for dinner the night before. The benefits outweigh the costs right now, though I also believe those of us of a certain age or awareness self-edit their lifestreams to a certain degree.

MC: And how do we manage this personal/professional divide? Should we be worried that supervisors “friend” subordinates on Facebook and can look into their personal lives while at the same time they must evaluate their performance? Do we go to someone’s Flickr stream or Twitter status to check on them when they call in sick? Ethical questions surround what we can now “find out” about coworkers, job applicants, potential friends, etc.

MS: Indeed! Our location-aware iPhones and applications like Loopt make it very easy to follow someone’s movements. I am both excited about broadcasting my whereabouts to trusted friends/colleagues and a little rattled when I see how easily the “nearby” functions in iPhone apps reveal one’s location-if people choose to be public with their data. Friending and un-friending is a tough call. I’ve deleted contacts in many of my networks but not others because of the transparency of the tool; I don’t want to send the wrong message. Kelly was right: transparency will play a key role in the richness of the cloud.

MC: Breaking down the dualism concerns me. We speak a lot about a balance in life-the personal and the professional, the family vs. the workplace-and while these areas will often blur, we should be able to keep them relatively separate. I recently deleted my Facebook account because I found the return on that investment to be rather small. It also brought together my personal and work lives a bit more than I wanted-and how do you politely remove workmates from your friends list?

Personalization & privacy
MS: I’d have to disagree. I am concerned about an overemphasis on privacy and a lack of personalization in libraries. I want to see pictures of the staff and library users online. I want to take pictures inside some of the beautiful libraries I visit. I am so happy to see that innovative OPACs like BiblioCommons allow user profiles. I wrestle with new definitions and new ideas about privacy these days. I also get my students writing for the web on Day One, not inside some safe Blackboard or WebCT-secure island. Sure, we need some closed spaces, but new librarians won’t be working online behind a safety wall. They’ll be writing, interacting, responding, and working with users and other librarians. They must be ready for that. I just don’t know how much presence is the right fit.

MC: I think we can achieve personalization without having everyone know that I went to see Elegy last night. We should all have a choice regarding how much of our lives we put out there. This is where we need to educate kids: being “out there” may not be a bad thing, but they need to understand the choices involved before making the decision, especially when high school and college students make the transition to the work world. Parents have a role, and sites such as GetNetWise and SafeKids can provide useful guidance.




Kevin Kelly lecture


Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

September 15, 2008 Library Journal