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On Trying New Things

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.

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6 thoughts on “On Trying New Things

  1. I see things a little differently, but I will agree with you that there has been a shift (at least in the blogosphere). I feel like we’re past the “introduction to social software/2.0″ phase, and we’re now into the “how do we make this stuff successful?” phase. Now I’m seeing more focus on usability, accessibility, training, assessment and other things that are critical, but aren’t really as exciting/sexy.

    That being said, I feel like I’m not hearing about as many totally new technologies per se, but clever tweaks on already existing technologies and clever uses of technologies that I had never thought of. So while it’s changed for me since I’m way past the intro phase, I still learn something new and interesting every week about this stuff that makes me consider how I could use it in my library. But that might also have to do with the fact that I *am required* to keep up with this stuff for my class at San Jose State and for my column.

    Sounds like you could use a break or a “jump start” (as you said). I’ve definitely been in those ruts before too; they can be hard to get out of.

    Looking forward to seeing you at CIL!

  2. Ironically, I don’t know exactly what I’m complaining about because I was never all that driven to find The Next New Thing. I like the questions of usability and assessment much more, actually. I guess I’m just having a hard time feeling my way at the moment, and I lighted on that as a shift I’ve seen and an uneasiness I’ve heard from others.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that this post boils down to two topics instead of one:

    1) It should be a good thing to realize that there’s still innovative work to be done, even though other people have laid down some of the groundwork. Not only should this not be a bad thing, it’s a good thing. Not everybody has to re-invent the wheel. And in fact, there’s probably still a lot of groundwork to lay down.

    2) I’m tired. And it’s harder to be excited about stuff when I’m tired, but I’ll get excited again as soon as I get un-tired.

    All this leads me to the conclusion that I’d can’t wait for Computers in Libraries. :-)

  3. I completely agree with your blog. I have felt that way for a long time now, but maybe you and I feel that way because we do read blogs and keep up on all the “new” things people are trying. But, not all librarians do.

    When I gave my presentation at MLA last October, so many people came up to me telling me all the things they learned or telling me how they have never heard of these things. I talked about Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, del.icio.us, etc. I’d been aware of all these things for such a long time, but so many aren’t.

    I like to stay on top of things in the library world, as I know you do too, so it seems like nothing I hear at conferences is new to me. What is good at those conferences is talking to other librarians and vendors, but the actual presentations aren’t so new.

    So, I don’t know if I’m tired, but I definitely feel like there isn’t anything “new” out there, though maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that means I’m on top of it all, right? We’ll have to see.

  4. Hello,

    I agree with you, Iris, that the library niche within “2.0″ applications might be hitting capacity – both in functionality and utility for libraries.

    There will be lots of new “2.0″ tools to play with (Mixwit was new for me this week) but sometimes it seems a stretch to overlay a library’s mission on top of the tool. (As you know, I am all for “libraries being libraries.”)

    What I hope the result of this lapse, or stay, becomes is an opportunity to shore up on support for more traditional library tools. The “0.1″ applications: bibliographies, guides, and good old instruction. These things aren’t, perhaps, as sexy, but now that libraries have re-imagined, or simply introduced themselves to their new “2.0″ users, isn’t it the perfect time to show them the value of the older school as much as we’ve adopted the new? Maybe its the equivalent of an artist’s retrospective.

    Hope you’re great. :)

  5. LeAnn, that’s another good point. This stuff is almost always new to *someone,* which brings me back to my original point that there’s not a lack of things to explore and do.

    And of course, Bill, you know how much I love the traditional tools at the library’s disposal. I think some of the most interesting things to think about these days are what happens when the traditional meets the 2.0? What’s good in different circumstances? When might “traditional” and “2.0″ actually be synonymous? How do we sell students on the traditional when that’s what they need?…

    All this is just to say that yes, I think now that the New is past the phase of “oooh, shiny!!!” we can really evaluate it and integrate it into the best of our existing services.

  6. Doing it all?
    Not seeing anything new?

    Maybe it is time for libraries to stop just adopting new technologies and take up more of a leadership role in developing new technologies. Why can’t libraries become the Web 2.0 leaders?

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