Internet Librarian: An Open Source Social Movement

Article excerpt

David Silver really wants you to know that the September Project isn't about September 11, 2001. Of course it started as a reaction to that day, now resonant with such power throughout our culture; however, the September Project (www.thesep temberproject.org) uses the date instead as a catalyst for discussions about democracy, citizenship, and patriotism that will take place--naturally--every September 11 (AL, Sept. 2004, p. 69).

Silver's not a librarian; he's my faculty colleague in the University of Washington's communications department. When he and his partner Sarah Washburn (formerly of the Gates Foundation) were conceiving this project, they landed on libraries as an attractive venue because they seemed like safe places to hold these discussions.

At the very beginning, this idea, like so many others, was an attempt to commemorate September 11 in a positive and constructive way. The concept spread very quickly, and in ways it never could have without the internet. Obviously, the speed and reach of the Web facilitated that spread, which was also fostered by a simple but valuable technique often used in building virtual communities. Silver and Washburn built up an idea bank with initial notions for events suggested by early adopters. This seeding process helped people to see what other libraries were thinking about and to then add new ideas of their own to the bank, which soon snowballed and broadly expanded interest and participation in the project.

In addition, a map on the website showing participating libraries was a big deal. It helped new libraries to visualize who was on board and see the momentum as others joined in increasing numbers. It also provided a vivid presence of the growing project (and was frequently updated--so much so that at least one library was a little annoyed that it didn't get on the map for several hours after it had signed on).

Not about the Net

Among the most surprising aspects of the project, at least from my perspective, is that the day itself was not about the internet. It was about the discussions, the conversations, the interactions, the communication, all of which happened in real time, person to person, all over the country and indeed around the world.

It would have been easy to conceive of a similar project housed on the internet, which in fact could have had broader reach and involved more people. …