Thursday, November 09, 2006

Old and Slow and Yet Still Working Well

Because I am old and slow, I am just now addressing an item that I read in the August issue of American Libraries. I do not remember seeing anyone else commenting on this. As a rule people blog about blogs and what is the print journals is not getting as much debate, it seems to me. Still, I keep thinking about the last two paragraphs of Joseph Janes' "Internet Librarian" column "At Arm's Length" on page 76 of that issue.

The next to the last paragraph:

"People who entered the profession some time ago started out thinking about using technology to connect to something - databases, catalogs, resources - and such early experiences often linger. The new kids, however, often began using computer tools to connect to each other. That will undoubtedly color and broaden their vision, and they will think of things differently than we of previous generations."

I think Janes is right, but I think there were signs of the using computer technology for communicating farther back than we sometimes recognize. I remember back in the mid-1970s having one of my Computer Science 301 classes at the University of Texas meet at one of the computing centers in the bowels of the UT Tower. We were there to see one of the grand applications of the university computer. I do not really remember what the point of the demonstration was. There was a large stack of punch cards set into a tray. When started, the cards were quickly fed through a reader and something was shown on a monochrome monitor. What I do remember is that before the demonstration the computer operator (a graduate student) had some preparations to make with another staff member in another building where another part of the computer resided. He typed on a keyboard and his words appeared on the monitor. Then a message from the other operator appeared. The two began to chat, told some jokes, and made an appointment for lunch. I was impressed. I had never seen anyone converse via computer!

I went into libraries instead of computer science and did not see anyone chatting online again for the next twenty years. Still, the idea of using technology for connecting to individuals was out there early.

Here is Jane's last paragraph:

"Of course, we oldsters, who are generally the ones running things, know that personal connections are important. Yet we're perhaps unable to envision how that might fit in an increasingly digitally mediated world. Maybe we should just get out of their way and let them do their thing ... but that's another story."

What does Janes mean by "get out of their way"? He only had an inch of column left and likes ending columns with open-ended thoughts. It can be taken several ways. First, it could just mean that "oldsters" should just remove barriers that are holding back youthful innovation. That is pretty easy to agree with. He could, however, mean really get out of the way, far away. Pass the reins, turn over the keys, leave the building, retire. To this, I say "No."

I attended Internet Librarian 2006 a few weeks ago and there were many "oldsters" there. They may have been more in the audience than in the team of presenters, but they were there taking notes, asking questions, and testifying to the glory of Library 2.0. They are partnering with their younger librarians and taking up the path instead of "getting out of the way."

Youth does not have a monopoly on good ideas for the use of technology. The "oldsters" should stick around for a while.

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