Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 8, Number 4: April 2008


Making it Work Perspective

TechNos and TechMusts

What do Rochelle Hartman, Jenna Freedman, Laura Crossett, Emily Clasper, Abigail Goben, Steve Lawson, Dorothea Salo, Meredith Farkas, Constance Wiebrands, Jessamyn West, “sylvie” and Walt Crawford all have in common?

We all write blogs in English. We’re all in the “library field,” more or less.

I doubt anyone would say we’re all Luddites, or technophobes, or anti-2.0, or anything of the sort. I’m sure some might use some of those labels for some (well, one) of us—but they’d be wrong.

I gave it away in the title, of course: We’ve all done posts admitting to “techNos” or “techNots” or, in Rochelle Hartman’s original brilliant formulation, that we are in some ways “Technofaux.” During February 2008 we wrote posts ‘fessing up to areas of contemporary technology that we either don’t get, don’t want or just don’t care about.

Here’s the list of blogs and dates—the blogs are all easy to find. Tinfoil+raccoon, 2/10/08 and 2/13/08; lower east side librarian, 2/11/08; lis.dom, 2/15/08; Library Revolution, 2/15/08; Hedgehog librarian, 2/16/08; See also…, 2/17/08; Caveat lector, 2/18/08; Information wants to be free, 2/18/08; Ruminations, 2/21/08; librarian.net, 2/22/08; rambleonsylvie, 2/22/08; Walt at random, 2/23.08. Instead of taking excerpts from one post at a time, I’m going to mix things up—adding the blog initials when it’s commentary, providing bullet points for specific techNos offered by one or more of the bloggers, sometimes paraphrased. (There were lots more TechNos in comments, but I’ll leave those out.)

TechNos

Ø  I’m not a gamer (several).

Ø  I’m not interested in games for my academic library

Ø  I never did learn to program my VCR (2+).

Ø  I refuse to record stuff from TV.

Ø  The clock in my car—can’t set the time (2+).

Ø  I can’t handle voice mail. And don’t even try me with call waiting.

Ø  I’ve never taken to (others: done any) online voice chat.

Ø  Podcasting. (1) I don’t go out of my way to listen… (2) I am categorically uninterested in creating or listening to them. (3) I’ve had a lot to do with them at work, but am not interested in creating personal ones…and don’t seem to listen to many. (4) I have created more podcasts than I have listened to.

Ø  I don’t have an iPod or mp3 player (several). (Variant: “I have a four year old MP3 player that I’ve used probably six times.”)

Ø  I do not own a computer (at home).

Ø  I don’t use my cell phone as anything but a phone.

Ø  Several: Cell phones for emergency use only, maybe on a prepaid basis.

Ø  Twitter is not something I want to get involved in.

Ø  I’ve never Skyped (several).

Ø  I don’t txt. (Variant: “These days I seem to use my phone for text… I don’t use my phone for much else.”)

Ø  My stereo speakers are one on top of the other.

Ø  Tried Twitter. Didn’t like it.

Ø  No personal interest in ebook readers (2+)

Ø  Programming skills. I have none, beyond BASIC…

Ø  I don’t know how to use Photoshop or the GIMP.

Ø  I don’t do Second Life (several)

Ø  Video… I now have a working camera…and I still haven’t bothered to investigate (me too).

Ø  As a Mac person, I’m ignorant about computer hardware (2).

Ø  Macs. I’ve never really used a Mac and I don’t get the Apple cult at all. (Variant: When I needed to use one, I found the Mac wholly unintuitive.)

Ø  I can read SQL but I’m lousy at writing it raw.

Ø  I can cut and paste…but have yet to sit down and really understand PHP or Javascript.

Ø  I still own and am very happy with a sturdy point-and-click (film?) camera. (Variant: The only camera in the house is an excellent compact 35mm. film camera…for now.)

Ø  The entire mobile revolution has plain old passed me by…no Blackberry, iPhone, cell phone, Palm…

Commentary

If you can present me with a tool that is truly useful to me or to my patrons, I’ll have a go at it. I’m not tech-averse, and I can be sporting and adventurous when presented with something beyond my immediate grasp. I’ve gapped my own spark plugs, and have even looked under the hood of a PC to install memory. So, what tech tools do I use and value? Twitter, Meebo, Gmail suite, Bloglines, Typepad. If someone gave me a Kindle or a Sony Reader, I’d be most grateful. What I love about all these apps is that they are all about readin’ and writin’. [T+R]

What about you? Are you perceived as a techie or a “computer person” by your friends, but have areas of tech brown-out or ennui? C’mon! Share your ignorance and techrankiness with the rest of us. Who are we to mock? I just made my first chart, ever, in Excel only yesterday. In fact, it may have been my first ever use of Excel for a real project… I’m not looking to hear from those with active loathing of all things tech, or from any evangelizing whiz kids (unless you are an evangelizing whiz kid with a secret shame you need to get off your chest). Most of us fall somewhere between Lud and Geek. This confessional assignment is for you. [T+R}

So why are we interested in compiling such lists? It’s fun to “come clean,” to demonstrate to others and ourselves that everyone has blind spots and tin ears for some technology. But what does it matter if we can’t program a VCR or play a videogame? I think this memelet says something interesting about library bloggers. We are prone to conflate various interests, tendencies, and proficiencies into one big “techie” category. But we are really talking about at least two different things… [Being able to create and maintain interesting and useful technology; being down with what we think our user population is doing; popularizing and surveying what users are doing.] [SA]

[From a comment on the post above:] I think it also comes from being a public service desk librarian, and being asked by our users about everyday technology that many of us don’t use in our every days. I laughed at your comment about being able to “cut and paste” code “like everyone else.” I wasn’t even thinking about that side of tech when I posted because it is absolutely not part of my job. I think the range of responses we’re seeing demonstrates just how broadly we characterize “technology.” I think it’s valid to admit clumsiness with SD cards and cell phones because many of us regularly get questions at the ref (and circ!) about tools and applications. Libraries are starting gadget garages to get staff up to speed on phones, mp3 players, etc. The bigger question is: how far do we go to support technology? [Rochelle Hartman]

I’m just pragmatic about the tech I buy. Every time I buy a gadget I don’t need, I end up not using it. So I’ve learned to wait until I really need something to get it. Similarly, just because people are into gadgets doesn’t mean they’re tech-savvy… What does tech-savvy really mean? Is it all about being able to code or is it also about being able to see the value of the tools in different settings and how to implement them successfully? I don’t really know much PHP, but I can mess around with the PHP code in a MediaWiki skin until I get it the way I want it. Laura Crosset may not know how to use Photoshop, but she created a damn fine website for her library using blog software… It makes me think there are many different kinds of tech-savvy. There are people who can build a computer or take apart a gadget and put it together again (not me). There are people who can code amazing web applications (not me). There are people who can’t do much more than design a web page, but understand how to implement technologies in ways that make it look like they “slaved over a hot stove all day.” I may not be all that into gadgets, but if I ever saw the value of using them or supporting them in my library, I’d be leading the charge. I’ve never actually been that into IM (which is why you won’t see me on AIM that often) but I’m the one who pushed for IM reference in my library. I tend to focus on the things that I think will provide the most practical benefit to me or to my patrons, which is why I don’t bother doing much with podcasting or making videos (other than screencasts). At other libraries, those may be key technologies for serving patrons… Anything I don’t know, I feel like I can learn if I need to. I think that’s what being tech-savvy is really about. It’s not about owning a certain number of gadgets or having a certain number of programming languages under your belt; it’s the facility for learning new technologies. [IWTBF]

I don’t feel the need to comment directly on these commentaries. They all make good points—and they’re all part of a multiway conversation among friends and acquaintances, with no “you must,” no “how could you not,” no admonishments. Meredith Farkas said what I believe everyone involved in the discussion feels: “Anything I don’t know, I feel like I can learn if I need to.” Need to is the operative word.

My own post was effectively the starting point for this article. Portions of that post follow—not quoted, because they’re my own words.

What makes this [conversation] comment-worthy is not that some bloggers, all of them techies or geeks at least to some extent, own up to being “low-tech” in some areas. As far as I can tell, everyone involved in the discussion has a life–and attempts to strike some balance between tech-oriented stuff and other stuff. Different people have different interests and needs.

What I find interesting is the contrast with an earlier set of discussions rolling around a few liblogs: The lists of skills that every library person must have, the universal tech competencies. [See TechMust below]… If our strengths and weaknesses in general technology areas can be complementary, why can’t—why shouldn’t?—the strengths, weaknesses, skills of staff members within a library be complementary?

There’s something else that’s interesting about this discussion, and it’s something that I’m finding more of as time goes on (or maybe I’m ignoring the gaps). Civility–and, with very few exceptions, the lack of any need to tell people how to “get over” what they didn’t care about or understand. The whole discussion has been charming and positive–and, I think, useful.

It’s not always that simple

Mark Lindner offered another perspective in a February 24, 2008 comment on my post. He’d thought about participating in the discussion—and concluded that it maybe wasn’t a good idea for people still in library school, hunting for a job, or early in their careers. What if a person lists something that some library regards as critical? Even though they could certainly learn the skill, will the library chuck the job application because “I remember in a blog where they admitted to not knowing X”?

I can’t argue with the caution and think Lindner’s right in saying it means the discussion unintentionally excludes some voices. Maybe it’s a discussion that LIS students need to be having face-to-face, where their admissions won’t come back to haunt them.

My response (in part): I certainly would not encourage a new librarian to confess lacking a set of skills, particularly since you’re supposed to be (and most librarians are) experts at finding out things they don’t already know. For that matter, I’m not encouraging anybody to ‘fess up. Heck, there have been times when I felt I was “faking it” with a programming-related skill…only to discover that I was in better shape than most others.

Rochelle Hartman, who started the whole thing, did me the honor of coming back to my post and commenting, in part:

I like that Walt is putting my not-meme up against the tech competencies that many of us are seeing, and I love his suggestion that maybe we all don’t have to do/be it all. I think maybe that’s where I was coming from when I posted mine, although I couldn’t have articulated it as such then. I haven’t seen any of those competency lists that I could score 100% on. There should be some basic competencies that we could all agree on–and that no one should be applying for a job without them. But do I really need to know how to embed a video or set up a simple network?

There’s also a pretty big difference between expectations at different types of libraries. My hunch is that academic libraries don’t get students coming in with their cell phones asking how to upload a photo to MySpace, but many of us at pub lib reference desks get that sort of question daily. But is that our job? Am I $30K in debt to be a very clever, over-educated tech support person? Like the Maytag repairman, I get all kinds of excited when a juicy ref question comes across the desk… I think that librarians used to have a very clear idea of what their institutions’ missions were, and what was expected of them as professionals. None of that is very clear at all right now, and our current staffing models, skill sets and physical spaces highlight this murkiness.

Dave Tyckoson added a thoughtful comment on making choices, ending with this paragraph:

Choosing to integrate—or not—any technology is neither good nor bad—it’s just a choice. Bringing these things into our personal lives is up to each one of us and should not be looked up or down upon by others. Integrating technology into our professional lives depends on the environment and people with which we work. If in a library or other institution that serves a public, it also depends on the level of skills among our community. Rarely is there a one-size-fits-all answer, despite how often we seem to be told about them.

I can’t think of a better way to end this discussion than with that last sentence: “Rarely is there a one-size-fits-all answer, despite how often we seem to be told about them.”

TechMusts

With one minor exception, the reaction to the TechNo lists was acceptance of the fact that we don’t all need to have the same skills and preferences when it comes to contemporary technology. I’ll assert that everyone in the list that began this article, and pretty much everyone who writes or reads liblogs, knows how to find out about technologies when they need to.

Someone who has one speaker sitting on top of the other one probably isn’t well equipped to help a library patron understand stereo separation and the basics of speaker placement. And why should they be?

Here’s a reason—one I consider absurd on the face of it: Libraries circulate music CDs. To get the most from a music CD, a patron must be able to set up their stereo system properly. Therefore, to make it possible for a patron to use the library’s resources effectively, frontline librarians should be experienced in the significance of stereo separation and at least the basics of speaker placement. Heck, maybe a real frontline librarian should be able to identify and evaluate the differences between port-loaded, acoustic reflex, and planar speakers. And since most movie DVDs have 5.1-channel surround sound, a good frontline librarian should be able to tell a patron how to set up a surround sound system.

Nonsense, right?

And yet, and yet…haven’t we seen lists of the basic “technology skills” that every librarian (or at least every frontline librarian) must have for computing and the internet?

Consider one relatively short list, offered by Emily Clasper as “minimum competencies” for someone to be “truly qualified to serve as a professional librarian” (emphasis mine) (Library revolution, July 5, 2007, libraryrevolution.com)

Ø  Create a desktop shortcut

Ø  Obtain an IP address

Ø  Create and rename folders

Ø  Save and retrieve saved documents

Ø  Send an email attachment

Ø  Cut, Copy, and Paste text

Ø  Use spell checking

Ø  Create basic documents with a word processor

Ø  Create basic documents with a spreadsheet program

Ø  Working knowledge of Web browser functions

Ø  Connect to a wireless network

Ø  Make an online purchase

Ø  Familiarity with the library’s catalog and its features

“Obtain an IP address”? Maybe (although I’m really not sure what that means—do a DNS lookup? Is that necessary for every librarian?). “Make an online purchase”? Why? What library-related function is shortchanged if a cataloger or reference librarian hasn’t purchased anything online?

One commenter was frustrated that a colleague didn’t know how to scan and save a picture, that another didn’t know how to post something on a blog. Are these really mandatory skills for every librarian? (Scanning a picture is very device-dependent. I’m not aware of any universal scanning technologies in Windows, at least. Blog posting depends heavily on the blog software—and we don’t all have to have blogs.)

Another commenter thought every professional librarian should “be able to use a site like Microsoft TechNet or Apple Support to answer their own questions.” (Another commenter questioned the need for library reference staff to take the place of campus technology center help desks for students unable to save documents.)

When the WebJunction list (below) was noted, Clasper called it “really, really great” since “helping patrons with computer issues is an important part of customer service in libraries these days.” Then, I would ask, since libraries go to so much expense to provide video and sound resources, how can librarians call themselves professionals if they can’t troubleshoot surround-sound systems and DVD players?

Technology competencies for public access computing

This WebJunction document, posted April 12, 2007 (http://webjunction.org/do/DisplayContent?id=15575), runs 20 pages. The first part, Patron Assistance, “addresses skills that front-line library staff need in order to provide direct assistance to patrons on the public computers.” That’s from the introduction—which earlier talks about “a host of new skills and knowledge…required as an integral part of working in a library.” This doesn’t seem to be a set of skills that someone must possess; at the very least, the Patron Assistance set would appear to apply to every library worker who spends any time in public services.

I won’t attempt to summarize the full list. The Patron Access section includes nearly 150 specific skills grouped into various competencies. It’s an interesting list—Windows-centric, to be sure. Is the list unrealistic? I’m not sure. I know I’d flunk the administrative section. I’m a little suspicious of a requirement to “Understand the difference between operating system software and application software”—Is Internet Explorer an application or part of Windows, for example? Windows Media Player? Windows Media Center (in Vista)? (Hmm. Is the user interface for a Linux distro application software or operating system software? What about Windows 98?) I’m a little surprised to see “Zip disk” as one of the removable storage devices that a librarian should be able to help with in 2007—and I’m not entirely convinced that every frontline librarian needs to “Know how to burn a music CD,” particularly since that’s not part of the OS, at least not pre-Vista. (Quick: Tell me how to burn a music CD on a Windows XP system as shipped. As far as I know, it’s not possible without adding applications software.)

Oh, and “Know what is meant by ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘Library 2.0’” is really tricky as a demonstrable piece of knowledge, since many of us will argue that there is no agreed meaning for the second term.

Skills for the 21st century librarian

Meredith Farkas provided an early “TechMust” list in this July 17, 2006 post at Information wants to be free (Meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/). But Farkas’ list does not provide specific tech skills; it looks at basic competencies. Briefly:

Ø  Ability to embrace change.

Ø  Comfort in the online medium. (Using search engines well, etc.)

Ø  Ability to troubleshoot new technologies. (Specifically those in this particular library for public use.)

Ø  Ability to easily learn new technologies.

Ø  Ability to keep up with new ideas in technology and librarianship (enthusiasm for learning).

Yes, public service librarians should be able to do basic troubleshooting for the public service devices. The last requirement is a little tricky, depending on your definition of “keeping up,” but I can’t argue with the parenthetical closing. Any white-collar job these days almost requires ongoing enthusiasm for learning, and that’s certainly true for anything that calls itself a profession.

There’s a short set of higher-level competencies as well, but I don’t see Farkas saying “you’re not a professional librarian if you don’t have these all down cold.” Even that set of competencies isn’t rife with specific tech skills:

Ø  Project management skills.

Ø  Ability to question and evaluate library services.

Ø  Ability to evaluate the needs of all stakeholders.

Ø  Vision to translate traditional library services into the online medium.

Ø  Critical of technologies and ability to compare technologies.

Ø  Ability to sell ideas/library services.

I think there are two competencies in that set that are relatively rare among even the best librarians, but I don’t think I’ll mention which two, leaving that exercise to the reader.

Basic competencies of a 2.0 librarian

Going back to Emily Clasper’s July 2007 list, David Lee King posted a list of competencies a “2.0 librarian” should have, while agreeing that her list is “all very basic skills.” His July 5, 2007 post (www.davidleeking.com) includes this list:

Ø  Write and post to a blog

Ø  Add photos and videos to a blog post

Ø  Embed a widget into blogs and social networking accounts (like MySpace)

Ø  Social network knowledge - basic understanding of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc

Ø  Shoot, upload and edit photos

Ø  Shoot, upload and edit short videos

Ø  Record, edit and upload a podcast

Ø  Use IM in different forms

Ø  Use and explain RSS and RSS readers to others

Ø  Send and read SMS text messages

Ø  Edit an avatar’s appearance

Ø  Basic console gaming skills (multiple formats preferred)

And adds these “bonus skills...still essential in this new era”:

Ø  Understand how everything above can cohesively fit together

Ø  Understand how everything above complements a physical, traditional library

Ø  The ability to learn the basics of a new digital service or tool within 15 minutes of fiddling around with it

Ø  And most importantly—the ability to tell the library’s story, through various media - writing, photography, audio, and video.

The list begs a question: What is a “2.0 librarian” and is it mandatory for every librarian (or every public service librarian) to be, or become, a 2.0 librarian? If the answer to the latter question is “Yes,” then the list is extremely ambitious. Do we really all need to be able to add videos to blogs, to embed widgets, to shoot and edit our own videos, to record and upload podcasts? Do we really all need to be able to “edit an avatar’s appearance”? Do we all need to be gamers? Is it at all reasonable to assume every new digital service or tool can be learned “within 15 minutes of fiddling around with it”?

I would answer “No” to all of those questions for most library staff. I’m not sure there’s any reason every library needs to edit avatars or embed widgets or even have a blog, much less every librarian. I will pretty much guarantee that many libraries, particularly most smaller libraries, don’t need librarians with “basic console gaming skills

It’s an extreme list unless the purpose is to carve out a special niche of SuperTechLibrarian and call that “2.0 librarian.” And yet, not one comment demurred—while several added new competencies (e.g., understanding XML and CSS).

So he added more to the list two days later:

Ø  Create, edit, and upload screencasts

Ø  Ability to do basic HTML editing--an understanding of (X)HTML and CSS…

Ø  Know how to pick up a new device (mp3 player, mobile phone, etc) and figure out how to use it

In that second post, King suggests that he doesn’t expect all librarians to be “2.0 librarians,” so maybe he is suggesting a special class—in which case he’s defining a set of skills for a specific kind of job. My problem there is that it goes against so many other people who speak of the need for all librarians to think in 2.0 terms—by which they do not typically mean having all of the skills in King’s lists.

A technology pledge

Jeff Scott, who directs a “rural” Arizona library serving 38,000 people, commented on the Clasper and King posts (and posts not noted here)—and the comments on the posts (Gather no dust, July 6, 2007, gathernodust.blogspot.com):

What I didn’t like about the discussion was the “beat you over the head approach” to anyone who is not technology savvy… We need to be patient with the non-techie people so that they will learn. Furthermore, library staff will not remember any training unless they are using it in their day-to-day jobs. They can be trained and require a competency, but if it is not something that comes up regularly, that information will not be retained. We need to be more patient and clearer in our training and how we provide assistance. Otherwise, many technology experts can look like some IT jerk who thinks everyone is stupid unless they know what they know. What is basic to someone that is familiar with technology is definitely not basic to everyone.

The pledge?

“I pledge that I will help those who do not possess the knowledge of our changing world, and help them navigate it in the way that they are comfortable with. I pledge to remember times, in which, I did not know how to do something, yet someone took the time to teach me. I understand that everyone is different and each person’s learning style requires something different of me. It is my responsibility to teach them and if a student does not learn that I take responsibility for that.”

There’s more to the post—the results of a staff survey Scott did and the six-month plan for training based on that survey. Scott focuses on getting the staff the knowledge they needed—unless they wanted more. “I am introducing new concepts that are more advanced, but only to those who have an interest in the exploration. Staff cannot be forced if it is not necessary.” Is it necessary for every library staff member to be able to edit videos and avatars? Clearly not. Is it even something that will come up in day-to-day operations at a library serving 38,000 people? Quite probably not.

More recently, Scott commented on the TechNo conversation—and what he didn’t do at his library:

[A]t the brink of implementing a library 2.0 training program, I pulled back. Mostly from an aversion by staff to new technology items. They felt that they were at their limit. We had implemented many technology pieces, from self-check, to computer reservation, and wireless internet. We trained them on how to use all of it. (AND they remembered it because they have to do it as part of their jobs.) However, too much technology can result in just as much work as having no technology… If staff aren’t prepared for the technology that currently exists in libraries, they won’t be able to handle new stuff thrown at them. For that matter, neither will our users.

The “Tech-no” conversation was a good conversation because it demonstrated our shortfalls. Many librarians would view themselves in this way, even though their general competencies are still well above the average person. We need to remember that and we also need to capitalize on the feeling we get when we run into our own technology gaps. If we remember all the times where we were stuck on something because we fell into our gaps when helping a patron, we will make that person more comfortable and more able to learn something new.

Maybe Scott sums up the difference between the TechNo posts and the TechMust discussions:

On one hand, we are talking about our gaps in knowledge, and on the other, we are punishing each other for those gaps.

Is it OK for a librarian not to know how to program a VCR, but not OK for a librarian not to know how to edit a video? How can that be? Because, in the second case, it’s internet video? I don’t buy that.

The TechNo discussion has been refreshing because it’s been honest and without recriminations. I have read nobody saying “How can you call yourself a librarian when you don’t know how to use Photoshop?” I wonder why it’s reasonable to tell people they’re not professional librarians if they haven’t made online purchases or don’t know how to connect to wireless networks—and I wonder how it’s helpful to restrict “2.0 librarians” to those who grok gaming consoles and edit videos.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 8, Number 4, Whole Issue 101, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.

Opinions herein may not represent those of PALINET or YBP Library Services.

Comments should be sent to waltcrawford@gmail.com. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2008 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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