Open Conversation: Transparency

Jan: Hi 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?

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!

Note from Michael: In 2009 and 2010, I wrote a column for a Dutch library magazine called Digitale Bibliotheek with Jan Klerk, Librarian at City Library of Haarlem Netherlands. Our editor, Karolien Selhorst, gave me the go ahead to republish the columns here. We wrote and published these pieces in English. Called “Open Conversation,” the articles gave Jan and I a chance to discuss all sorts of topics related to libraries, technology and trends. We took some unique approaches during our time writing together. I appreciated this chance to collaborate on an international level.