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A Side Effect of Social Networks That I Hadn’t Anticipated

I’ve noticed a curious trend here at Internet Librarian. Those sessions led by LSW members are consistently of high quality. They were informative, humorous, to the point, and organized. Those sessions led by non-LSW members are a very mixed bag. A couple were brilliant (I’m thinking of danah boyd, especially). A few were definitely not.

One explanation could be that we’ve managed to amass a group of cool librarians that are also good presenters. And while I think this is definitely true, I don’t think it’s the whole story. For one thing, if this were the whole story, I’d expect to see improvement in those of us who’ve spoken a lot, and I’d expect to see newer presenters from the group playing a bit of catch-up. I’m not really seeing that, though. It seems like the entire group, veteran and newbie speakers alike, churned out really high-quality work.

My theory is that the fact that we keep up with each other online, and the fact that we all know and respect each other, enticed everyone to step up and make sure that what they presented would be top notch. Put simply, everyone was proving to everyone else that they were cool enough to belong in the group. Even those who had never spoken at a national conference before had a reputation to maintain in front of a crowd of seriously talented, smart, and funny peers.

There’s a down-side to this network effect, too. We generally knew a lot of the facts presented already, since we’d already presented them to our peers online. Still, I heard several things expressed in person in ways that I hadn’t heard online. And the sheer mass of presentations and discussions juxtaposed against each other highlighted some trends that I would probably have missed otherwise.

The conference is over now, and we’re all scattering back to our respective homes. The conversation about librarianship will continue, though, as we keep up with each other online. I wonder what this means for the quality of next year’s conference. Only good things, I imagine.

Next up: actual information from sessions. I promise. I’m working on it.

9 thoughts on “A Side Effect of Social Networks That I Hadn’t Anticipated

  1. While I agree with your theory as a motivator and incentive, it does nothing to explain the fact that they were good or even that you thought they were good.

    It seems to be a very reasonable explanation of what a person would desire as a presenter, but desire to be a good presenter is pretty much irrelevant to the actual accomplishment of such. Certainly someone who desires to be good may well put more into their preparation, practice more, etc. But desire guarantees none of that, nor does it guarantee that even that effort will actually pay off for any given individual.

    But then I’m not a member of the club so my opinion is irrelevant. ;-)

  2. Hi Iris, that’s an interesting observation. I wonder also whether the fact that LSW presenters have been sharing info and learning from each other had an influence on the quality. If you’ve been learning and talking about the issues for a while, with a group of likeminded enthusiastic people, it can’t help but influence your level of enthusiasm and knowledge.

  3. Right, Mark. Which is why I think that the fact that these are talented people to begin with is important, but not the whole story. What I saw at work was talent plus motivation.

    And that’s an excellent point, Con. Everyone had the chance to bounce ideas around with a wide group of people, which can only help when it comes to formulating coherent thoughts.

  4. Exactly, I have no doubt they are talented people to begin with. I even know one or two of them. :-)

    “Talent plus motivation.” I guess technically I am a member of LSW but not a participating one. Perhaps that’s one reason why. I frequently lack one or the other of those.

  5. I think it is true that LSW types and bloggers (like myself) put a much higher value on “performance” at these kinds of conferences than do other librarians. At best it leads to dynamic, useful, fun presentations. At worst it leads to inside jokes and egocentrism.

    It’s also possible that your response is biased. As an LSW operative, you may feel more inclined to like or agree with or understand LSW fellow travelers. I wonder if LSW presentations get better marks than others from the general audience.

  6. Hmm. I think we are a group of smart, creative people who have naturally gravitated to one another, and that the social web in general and the LSW in particular have accelerated and deepened that gathering. I worry, as does Steve, if that sometimes makes us cliquish and egocentric, but that happens to a lot of groups. Given the number of things we all still disagree about, I don’t think we’ve all just drunk the LSW koolaid.

  7. I’d wondered about the bonhomie effect, Steve. I know that I was pre-disposed to enjoy listening to people I enjoy. But what I didn’t anticipate was taking notes during those sessions.

    I suppose another facet to this is that the presenters were not only motivated to do well by the prospect of presenting to friends, but that they were also able to feed of the general good will of a friend-filled first couple of rows and get over nerves more easily.

    Or maybe I’m just making this whole thing up and I really just enjoyed watching those sessions, and it was just all in my head that they were better. I’m willing to admit that I like hearing presentations by people I like. :)

  8. This is my first blog comment anywhere in months. (Apologies for getting in on the comment thread so late.) I had to respond because this post reminds me of a comment I left on another blog eighteen months ago. Back then, blogging was THE thing. Those who were “in the club” had a well-respected blog with great (or at least fast-growing) readership. Just five short days later, I was having dinner at Computers in Libraries with a group of people, most of whom were regulars on the presenting circuit, and highly visible elsewhere. The very same general group of people whose members I had just publicly said I was too scared to meet in person. I was very happy to not be treated like a total outsider, though (to use a sports phrase, and please excuse slight PG-13 language) I couldn’t (and still really can’t) hold anyone’s jock.

    Less than a year later, I presented at the very same conference. That’s a huge step beyond basically being a nobody in librarianship (still am, really) who was too intimidated to even meet the rock stars and movers and shakers (LJ and otherwise) of the profession, both established and up-and-coming. Two months after that, I was far less intimidated when I went to Blog Salon at ALA Annual. Walked around there like I belonged, actually knew people, and had a reason to be there. Also since then, I have simply gotten out there more, both to put in face time and to learn from those who know. In terms of presenting, I have had several moments where I’ve thought, “I could really do this. (If only someone out there would think I had a reason to, and take a chance on a relatively little kid…)”

    A lot has happened in a short period of time. I figured out that in order to be the best, one might want to roll with the best. Good things eventually rub off. Now I once again worry about being cool enough to be as welcome, but now only because I might not be doing enough compared to this group of peers. I have trouble keeping up these days, mostly because of being in LIS school and not being a professional librarian (thus not having anything of empirical substance to share with the world based on tried-and-true practice). Seeing what this group of peers does regularly does put pressure on me to do far more than is expected of someone who’s just an LIS student who checks in new books all day — just to feel like I am on par. I’m often told that I am very far ahead of the game, though I almost always disagree. I need this interaction to keep me honest, and to inspire me to step my game up tremendously.

    Like you said a long time ago, Iris, this online community of library folks really is “like being at a conference every day all day.”

  9. I’m constantly amazed when I look back over the past couple of years and see how many of the things I would have thought impossible turned out not only to be possible, but to be incredibly rewarding. You certainly *have* done a lot in the last two years, Julian!

    And I can absolutely sympathize with your feeling that it’s impossible to keep up with this crowd. I feel like that all the time. But I’ve also had enough conversations with other people about this that I know many of us feel that way. The funniest conversations involve each person saying “But I was trying to catch up to you” back and forth at each other.

    To the extent that we can all use this for motivation rather than discouragement, I think it’s a wonderful thing. It proves that we respect each others’ work, find each other inspiring, and want to emulate each others’ best qualities. Granted, it can be discouraging at times. But that’s why I keep a little file of the times when people have said things that lifted my spirits. I’ll get that out and read through it a couple (dozen) times and remind myself that part of the glory of being in a group like this is that it’s not required that I be brilliant every day. The group is brilliant every day, and I can contribute here and there and then spend the rest of the time learning from everyone else.

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