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Gaps and Bridges, Bridges and Gaps

Submitted by Jason Griffey on July 28, 2008 - 4:06pm

Susan McKinlay and Jason griffeyThere are many stories from the 2008 ALA Annual conference in Anaheim, from Google being MIA on the exhibition floor to what happens when a few hundred librarians descend onto Disneyland. But my favorite story from my time in Anaheim starts like this...

Cindi Trainor had wrangled myself, David Lee King, and Rachel Vacek out of the Hilton Anaheim in order to shoot a few portraits. We were heading around the edge of the building when we were stopped by a librarian reading that day's LA Times. Susan McKinlay was reading a story that involved the Apple iPod and stopped us to ask if we knew anything about them. Susan had, following up on her interest in the story, polled all of the librarians in line for Starbucks coffee as she exited the Hilton, and not one of them had an iPod.

Then she runs into the four of us...possibly the highest concentration of librarian gadgetry possible.

Each of us had an iPod with us, ranging from the older clickwheel-type, to my iPod Touch and David with a iPhone. I even had both an iPod Touch and a Zune, of all things. We took some time to explain the differences, and talked a bit about how iTunes worked with the iPod, how Rhapsody was different from both, and showed off what the newer touchscreen iPods could do besides just music (video, calendars, email, etc). We talked a little about the fact that my library and many others are starting to circulate iPods, but that no, they aren't nearly as rare as her informal poll might lead her to believe. She seemed to be surprised when we told her that everyone we know owns at least one of them, and was terrifically surprised at what the newest generation of them can do. The Touch and iPhone are basically small but fully-functional computers, that just happen to fit in your pocket.

We spent maybe 10-15 minutes talking to her about technology, exchanged cards so that she could get in touch with us later if she had questions, and proceeded to let Cindi take some pretty amazing pics of us.

So what is the (as they say in the business world) take-away from this chance encounter? What does this tell us about librarians and librarianship? I would not have put any amount of money on polling people in line at a Starbucks and having not a single one own an iPod...not in any city, anywhere. Apple has sold over 140 million of them, and they are without a doubt the market leader in mobile music. To have a couple dozen librarians in one place and none of them have an iPod shows how we, as a profession, are demographically out of step...especially with American youth (the demographic almost guaranteed to own one).

On the other hand, it illustrated to me the intrinsic willingness for librarians to ask questions, and seek out information on things with which they are unfamiliar. Each of us walked away from the encounter smiling, thrilled at the honest joy with which she really wanted to understand this "new" technology. It made me more determined than ever to find ways to extend the community of librarians who are technologically plugged in to the rest of librarians. Too often we insulate ourselves from each other, and it's time to find ways to increase communications. If the majority of librarians don't understand the iPod, how can we get to social software, semantic web, and other technologies? We do it by making these technologies available, by having technology playgrounds/toolchests for people to get familiar with them.

It was a really phenomenal reminder of the gaps, and bridges, that still exist in librarianship.


Comments (12)

I am a librarian who does

I am a librarian who does not have an i-pod. It isn't because I don't understand it, it's because I don't want one. I also don't have a cell phone...because I don't want one.

I have 2 blogs, a Myspace account, 2 wikkis, own a Macbook, PC laptop, work on PC's and Mac's, created and manage my school library webpage, visit Flickr, Youtube, use all manner of software, and so on.

Judging someone's ability to understand and use technology by whether or not they own it, is like saying we don't understand fire because we don't have a fireplace.

Requiring ownership will only increase the gap, not close it. Not everyone can afford to own the latest and greatest tech. That's where libraries play a huge role. Provide access to the technology so that those who can't afford it, can still use it.

hi, guys I think about it

hi, guys I think about it The iPod is not a litmus test. Having a customer-centered ethic is 100x more important than whether they can Twitter, Pownce and FriendFeed.The system's software goes beyond tracking simple emotions like sadness and anger to estimate complex mental states like agreeing, disagreeing, thinking, confused, concentrating and interested. The goal is to put this mental state inference engine on a wearable platform and use it to augment or enhance social interactions, said Rana el Kaliouby, a postdoctoral researcher at the Media Lab.

rocky

Oregon Treatment Centers

In the late 1990's there was

In the late 1990's there was a Wired magazine quiz called something like "How Connected are You?" The quiz basically came down to how many gadgets you owned. If you had a Blackberry AND an international-enabled, satellite-system-based cell phone (once the Next Big Thing), you where in the "super connected" category, for example. (Hmmm were Blackberries around back then? Well, you probably get the idea.)

I am a semantic web meets AI

I am a semantic web meets AI meets personalization meets 3.0 librarian and I actively reject the Apple "cooler than thou" (I prefer John Hodgman rather than smug former-geek-turned-hipster guy) marketing plan that has swept everyone under 35 (and made them comfortable with DRM to boot).

The iPod is not a litmus test. Having a customer-centered ethic is 100x more important than whether they can Twitter, Pownce and FriendFeed. With that service orientation, the technological initiatives get approved as long as you make the case. They don't know technology but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are fighting technology either.

However, I will tell you male librarians with panama straw hats is out of touch with youth culture.

It's Friday, so I'll indulge

It's Friday, so I'll indulge my inner crank and ask why does it always have to be an iPod (or is the term being used generically)? I made the decision to go with an alternative brand mp3 player for a number of reasons, and am a happy Sansa user!

Sorry for the doublepost.

Sorry for the doublepost. The first one seems to have been caught in moderation limbo and I thought it never made it through. The moderators should feel free to delete one of my posts.

I don't _think_ I said that

I don't _think_ I said that American Youth are almost guaranteed to own an iPod. I am very, very aware of the technology/income gap that exists in this country.

What I _meant_ was that if we looked at iPod ownership broken down by age and country, I'm betting that American Youth outstrips all other ownership categories. But I can see how what I wrote could be construed the other way...what I actually said was:

"To have a couple dozen librarians in one place and none of them have an iPod shows how we, as a profession, are demographically out of step...especially with American youth (the demographic almost guaranteed to own one)."

Perhaps a better phrasing would be something like: "...are demographically out of step from the youth of America, the demographic unit most likely to own an iPod..."

Or something like that....

I am a systems librarian and

I am a systems librarian and I don't have an iPod, nor do I have a cell phone. One reason I think that is so is I am not aurally oriented. I am visually oriented. I have an ebook (actually two); not a Kindle but one of the original Rocket's. How many folks in line at Starbucks have that?

I would argue that it's less

I would argue that it's less a case of librarians being demographically out of step and more a case of librarianship being a relatively low-wage profession given the technical skills required. I'd love to buy an iPod, but my daughter has outgrown all of her clothes and my family's commuting expenses have risen $300/month in the last two years. Guess which takes priority when my salary isn't even keeping up with the rate of inflation.

How much does it have to do

How much does it have to do with being demographically out of step and how much does it have to do with being paid low wages while trying to support a family? I live in the land of Microsoft. The folks I know who work in the tech industry have all the new toys. The librarians I know earn tens of thousands of dollars less and don't have all the gadgets (although we do lust after them). I'd love an iPod. I'd also love to get my daughter new clothes this winter to replace the ones she's outgrown. Guess which takes priority on a salary that isn't even keeping up with inflation?

Can you say more or cite a

Can you say more or cite a source for your statement that "American Youth" are "almost guaranteed" to own an iPod?

I applaud your willingness to bridge the gaps, but I wonder if the techie librarians aren't just as out of step as those waiting in the Starbucks queue.

Yes there is a huge gap with

Yes there is a huge gap with technology. I used to think it was just my library (since it is rural), but it is generally the case. Library staff, on average, may not be interested in technology and furthermore may not be able to afford it. Setting up a tech garage at the library can help staff become more familiar with the different types of technology. The Maricopa County Library Council has a special sub-committee call MCLC Tech Talk. They talk about technologies so that all of the staff and their public can be familiar with what is going on now. Having a program about technology gadgets such as Ipods, E-readers, and the like is beneficial. It is less likely people will ask, "What is an Ipod?"