Saturday, May 30, 2009

Will my interest in Library 2.0/social media hurt me?

I've being a librarian for 2 years now, and it seems a good point as ever to look back at my career so far.

Looking back, what surprised me the most was how I suddenly got interested (maybe even obsessed) with Library2.0 when before I showed little interest in it at all.

The story of how it happened is somewhat interesting but I won't relate it here.

What I'm concerned here is whether I'm spending too much time and energy in this area, or could I be better off focusing time studying more traditional areas of librarianship like acquisitions , cataloging or working on my reference skills.

Of course the irony is that I recently was posted to the Information services department from Technical services and given greater freedom to suggest Library 2.0 ideas.

I should be happy but instead now I find myself in doubt.

Before this, I experimented with Library 2.0 on my own time (to my bosses reading this, I'm afraid to say some of the extra late hours in the office and weekends were spent on "research" of Library2.0!), still I wonder if the time spent on them could be better spent studying or working on more traditional areas of librarianship such as Acquisitions, Reference skills, cataloging etc.

If I had focused my energies on studying and working on those areas would I be a more effective librarian than I am now? I suppose I can comfort myself that I'm working on my social networking competencies that librarians are supposed to possess (or am I fooling myself?). Besides isn't learning about emerging tech part of every librarian's job?

But then again what use is it to be a wiz at the latest emerging tech but lack basic librarianship skills? Sure you could hack up a widget faster than I can say information literacy program, but
what use is it if you can't explain the differences between Google scholar vs Scopus vs Web of science for citation analysis?

You might be god-like at promoting your Facebook or Twitter account but what good is it if you can't answer the query that comes in via Twitter or Facebook about the difference between Datamonitor and Euromonitor reports ? (I would give a better more specific example but my librarianship skills are so bad, I can't think of better examples! ) Why bother with outreach in SecondLlife when you have a big fat zero in "normal" outreach?

Does anyone take issue with me if I say that given a choice between "traditional" librarianship and emerging tech, the former is almost always more valuable particularly to a librarian starting out?

It's one thing for mid-high level librarians with well established foundations in librarianship (and perhaps face diminishing returns when focusing on those areas) to start playing with Library 2.0 and another thing for a brand-new librarian to risk putting most of his energies in such a non-traditional area of librarianship.

The danger is that many of the newer and usually younger librarians are the ones who naturally take to "emerging technologies" and library 2.0, and they may spend too much time on it (as perhaps I have) and yet they are the ones who benefit the most from working on the basic tradtional areas of librarianship.

Many respected librarians such as Michael Stephens of Taming the web and Meredith Farkas of information wants to be free have warned about the dangers of technolust, and when I think about it, there is certainly some truth in it as it applies for me.

While it is fun to play with such tools, I have to be honest with myself that I know many of the ideas that I have or played with are really just cool toys but probably of little interest to our patrons. (Interestingly enough my part-time Phd research (if I ever finish it) can be seen as trying to measure the value of such activities but ....)

I worry that Library 2.0/social media is just a passing fad, and that 5 years down the road, when someone asked me what area of librarianship I excel in, I don't have much to say. Would I be better off working on other areas of librarianship that I show some aptitude in (say reference services) and try to be an expert in that?

And even if Library 2.0 were to continue to flourish and become an important part of librarianship, I also worry that given my limited technical skill (I'm for sure not a systems librarian), for me focusing on library2.0 is just a dead-end, because the best I can do is to make minor modifications of existing scripts.

So what do you think? Should librarians who are not system librarians do Library 2.0? Do you think it is a good idea for beginning librarians to put so much focus on Library 2.0? Or is it more productive to spend time learning the basics of librarianship before working on Library 2.0?

A balanced approach is best yes, but how much time should a librarian devote on it? 20% standard similar to Google's "20 percent time"?
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