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Radical Trust


Ever since Computers in Libraries this spring, people have been talking a lot about Darlene Fitcher’s “Radical Trust” concept. Stephen asks questions like

Are we comfortable with users tagging our MARC records? Can they add post-it note and comments to MARC? Are comments and user recommendations OK with us? Moderated or unmoderated? (Don’t be so fast – Are Amazon, Borders and B&N moderated?)

and

Why does Amazon work as an experience? Can libraries trust their users enough to safely share personal information to create a user recommendation experience like Amazon?

to get us thinking about radical trust. These questions and their kin are exactly the kind of questions we should be answering for ourselves. The answer doesn’t always have to be change. But if we don’t ask the questions and experiment with the ideas they present, how will we ever know if they were the right questions? And the best part is, exploring these questions can never hurt anybody. We aren’t committing to anything or throwing out millions of hours of work. We’re asking questions and thinking about the answers and maybe piloting and experimenting a little. But just because we don’t like one idea or care for one of the questions doesn’t mean that we’re exempt from asking them. That’ll never get us anywhere.

And in the midst of a very busy blog weekend (Wow, bibliobloggers were prolific this weekend!), John Blyberg wrote a fabulous essay called “More Than Just Faith: Radical Trust.” I highly recommend reading it and considering its implications. Two key points emerge from his essay: experimentation is necessary and good, but indiscriminate experimentation isn’t. He says:

What about the risk that your department could turn into a lunatic’s workshop? That’s not a bad concern. Innovation has always been about harnessing creativity to address a need or desire. By brainstorming effectively as a group, you can be selective about what you pursue so that energy is directed properly. What you want, what you should be striving for is focused creativity. This means using planning, communication, and agreement as the perimeter of your experimentation. Inter-organizational collaboration is a useful tact here as well.

But I think that part of radical trust is trusting ourselves. We need to understand that we can ask “crazy” or “out there” questions without ruining our credibility as librarians within our institutions. Too many people worry that if you ask questions about tagging MARC records, you actually want to implement it NOW and label all detractors as luddites and control-freaks. THIS IS NOT THE CASE. We are perfectly within our rights to ask questions and then not end up implementing those ideas. We are NOT within our rights to shut up and not ask the questions in the first place.