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December 11, 2008


Richard - Bravo on your presentation! As one of those in the audience I enjoyed it. The presentation of the material came out naturally and coherently. But the slides complimented the speaker's discourse rather than dominating it. All were good, all powerful in their way but the speaker and what he said was more interesting to me!

I did have a comment on the presentation of a somewhat philosophical nature about technology, sub-cultures and choices. It is interesting what messages one hears or chooses to hear coming out of the presentation. What I heard is the libraries and government organizations are perhaps conservative in terms of technology adoption and the case of Web 2.0 tools is cited as a case in point. I know that you would say your point was more nuanced than that and that you were trying not to make value judgments. But it is what came across to me during the presentation so I feel compelled to address this.

I know you were thinking about web 2.0 tools when you said "technology" but I would argue that there are different communities and sub-cultures in our society, each with their own technology priorities driven by their needs. Web 2.0 tools are in my view born out of the 'consumer marketplace' sub-culture (or dominant culture depending on how you want to look at it) where posting photos and sharing with friends dominates and is supported by technologies that facilitate these interactions. By the same token, in the 'research marketplace' sub-culture the priority may well have been elsewhere. Two anecdotes come to mind to show how these different parts of our society address technology to meet their specific needs and may well bypass technologies used by others.

ex. 1. Scientific researchers want as much as electronic information as they can get their hands on and in about a decade have displaced the print article with its electronic equivalent. Libraries have responded to that need by licensing the electronic and cutting print journal subscriptions. Contrast this development with poor uptake of the the e-book in the consumer market where print books still dominate. Go figure?

ex. 2. Collaborative tools which include wikis as well as commercial versions such as SharePoint and Oracle UPSS have seen steady but modest growth in the scholarly communication environment compared to the explosion of their use in the consumer market with sites like Wikipedia. Moreover, talking about librarians, researchers and the adoption of collaborative tools, my recent experience is that librarians have actually been in the position of facilitating/encouraging researchers to use collaborative tools and not necessarily the other way around.

Clearly the influence of the consumer market on the researcher market is there. As newer generations of researchers move into positions of influence in their organizations they have an easy familiarity with Youtube and other web 2.0 oriented sites and will want to see how that same kind of functionality applies to their work-lives. Consciously or unconsciously I am not certain researchers were crying out for Facebook when it first came out to solve their scholarly communication problems. They may admire its easy networking capability and use it in their private lives, but would be scratching their heads wondering how a site that started with the goal of connecting university buddies could replace current ways of sharing information with scientific peers like scholarly publishing. he paradigm change is quite there yet.

All to say that when talking about "technology" or "early and late adopters"; by putting values around these concepts we do need to understand why in different segments of our society, technologies are adopted at different speeds, depending on the need, not simply by a choice to adopt or not adopt by someone. It is not that researchers or librarians are behind the times or unaware of what is out there in the wider market in terms of web 2.0. They may well be responding effectively to what they believe are the conscious or unconscious needs in their world. Putting money on electronic information has been a good investment for research in general. But it is not a value judgment necessarily on web 2.0 in general by doing so. It is just deciding priorities.

I perhaps make an overly black/white argument here to prove a point. The world is grey. Researchers will indeed be using their 'own facebooks' now and in future but they adopt when the timing is right for them. When they do, librarians will be waiting, ready to help them do so.

Mike Ireland

Michael I think your points are well taken. I tried to make it clear in my presentation, that there are overlapping waves of technology adoption, and levels of technology use, and there isn't one stage that is "better" than the others. Early adopters take on tremendous risk. Heavy technology users invest tremendous amounts of time in mastering particular systems. The point of the timeline, which I probably didn't make as well as I should have, is that as new technologies come out, you first get the wave of early adopters, so for Web 2.0 that would be right in 2004. General adoption will take several years. So we shouldn't be surprised that we are still working on Web 2.0 technologies in government, considering that they were only invented 4 years ago - one of the striking things about GCPEDIA is how quickly it has come on the scene, given all the many government web constraints.

We can always learn from early adopters, but we don't necessarily want to be them. The key is technologies that are appropriate to your needs. As I said at the beginning of the presentation, NRC and CISTI, along with many academics (particularly in the hard sciences), were early to the Internet and early to the web. Public libraries were later, but that only make sense because their patrons were also later to the web.

There were so many different angles I was trying to cover, the main body was about Web 2.0 fairly generally, with some reference to use by libraries generally. The Web 2.0 and technology space as it impacts academic and research libraries specifically is somewhat different. I had to revisit the text above to see whether I had covered the social networking space as it relates to scientists - I didn't have time to cover this, it's a slide at the very end of my presentation. The particular social networking aspects of the web I don't think are going to get wide adoption by the current scientific community - Outsell lists at least 40 such sites, many of which are a solution in search of a problem. Working scientists, like working librarians, already have existing social networks supported by technology. As you say, the key is for us to watch what the early adopters are doing, because they point the way to a potential generational change, as people enter the workplace with social networks in e.g. Facebook, rather than keeping in contact with friends using email.

With the beginnings of adoption of Web 2.0 technologies internally, CISTI is taking the right steps to explore this space. Our decision to create an internal MediaWiki-based CISTI wiki positions us well to participate in GCPEDIA. As well, the library community in general had a slight and understandable lag in adopting many web and Web 2.0 technologies, but as I said in my presentation, they are now leaders in many ways, particularly in the use of the web to support conferences.

That being said, there are always aspects of different organisational cultures that adapt at different rates to technological change. One of the key points that I made in the recorded version of the talk, but that I forgot to make in the presentation, is that sharing information openly brings tremendous benefits. The simple decision I made to share my Internet Librarian 2004 notes publically, in a blog, has led to all the subsequent developments and opportunities that I have participated in on the web and at conferences. That's just one aspect of culture change that doesn't have anything to do with a specific technology.

Thanks again for your comments.

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