I’ve been thinking a lot recently about an odd shift I’m seeing. It seems like a couple of years ago, there was a big push in my corner of libraryland to “try new things,” which was mostly code for “try a blog, try a wiki, try IM, try social bookmarking, try Flickr, try ANYTHING.! Please!!” It was pretty exciting to blog and read blogs during that time. I learned a lot from people who pointed to new extensions they were using, new social tools, new uses for “older” tools.
But recently I’ve felt (and I know others have felt) like there’s nothing more we can contribute to this discussion that’s really and truly new. We can go to conference sessions geared to introducing the newest of the new tools and already know about every single tool discussed and know a handful or even a fistful of libraries that are using them. We might even be using them ourselves.
The same can be said for “new” service models or collection changes or any number of other topics. Maybe it’s a function of my having been slightly too overextended in the last few months to have the energy to get excited about or imagine new implementations of the ideas I’ve heard about, but I know I’ve had the feeling recently that maybe there isn’t much more that’s new to learn about in my previous areas of interest right now. What’s more, I’ve heard a few other librarians say similar things. “I just can’t come up with anything that other libraries haven’t already tried. There’s just nothing actually new going on here.”
It’s almost like my whole corner of the library world took a collective sigh and realized we’re tired.
And maybe there’s truth in this feeling, though I doubt it. Maybe we’ve settled far enough into the social web or the fill-in-the-blank-new-Library2.0-service world that it’s no longer confusing enough to wonder about or new enough to get excited over. Or maybe we’re all just getting over the Long Winter (it’s snowing here today… seriously… maybe 8 inches by tomorrow morning). Or maybe there’s enough communication now that where we would previously have had a hard time knowing about what other libraries are up to, now it’s quite easy to skim a feed reader and get a quick run-down every single day. (If this is the case, I think it’s a wonderful development.)
But my hunch is that while we’re pretty much trained from college on upward that “original” is a synonym for “good,” and “derivative” is a synonym for “lazy,” it actually doesn’t work that way in real life. It doesn’t matter if 3/4 of the libraries you know about are implementing a new service or tool. Even if other libraries have tried whatever you’re trying, there’s still usually no way to adopt implementations wholesale. Almost always, you have to evaluate and tweak and shift and re-mix ideas to fit your own context and your own community.
And this leads me to believe that maybe the problem isn’t that there isn’t anything new happening; that the problem is with me. I’m the one sighing and acknowledging that I’m tired. I’m the one who’s been overextended just enough to shut off that creative part of me that used to read what people are doing and start scheming about how it would look at MY library. If this is the case, I sincerely hope that my trip to Computers in Libraries will jump start that portion of my brain and help me not just know but actually believe that it doesn’t matter that other people are doing cool things already. They’d still be new and cool to think about trying here. And these reports I’m reading and the others that I’m generating, and the lessons I’m learning from planning a conference, and the other lessons I’m learning from helping out with Print Management implementation?… Maybe these are still interesting and not just “the same thing that everyone else is doing, so why would they care.”
We’ll see. Here’s hoping.