Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Where the Sidewalk Ends and the Community Begins

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Where the Sidewalk Ends and the Community Begins

Article excerpt


Looking back to library school, I recall that I loved children's literature and storytelling class, even though I knew I was heading toward the corporate sector at the time. Storytelling class was captivating for me, and it was there that I first read poems by noted author Shel Silverstein, whom I evoke in this column's title. As a poet, he captures the secret world of children and their dreams, which carry few limits. Now, in 2008,1 find that once again the "folksonomybased" wisdom of our profession, which has concerned itself with all kinds of knowledge including the "magical," remains a powerful guide to understanding new media. This is especially true regarding the care and feeding of new communities online. Indeed, success in online communities can depend on the ability to tell one's own story in a distinctive manner. And it can be fun too.

Wait a minute: Being an information professional can be a very serious business. Even so, as I survey our online experience, it's clear to me that fun has seeped into our professional lives in new but appropriate ways. Online communities have accelerated the trend because they have become new frontiers for productivity-and playful work.

Fun creates energy and imagination. Online fun has its roots in high-powered gaming, as well as in the tradition of creative chatting. Remember when the pioneering online domain known as The Well defined creative online life? It worked then and does now. It also seems likely that online friendmaking and even dating have helped people learn boundaries, limits, and skills that help them interact in workplace communities. The popularity of social networking software has become a new frontier in the workplace, bringing challenges and enormous potential for boosting productivity.

Blurring Boundaries Between Work and Play

Understanding fun and its crucial role is an important skill for digital librarians. The power of fun isn't new either; it has always had a key role in the workplace. The main difference is that in online communities informal or casual interaction is more permissible, and a new set of behavioral cues guides participants. But that isn't really all that new either.

I found that working as a law librarian (now that's serious) was far more fun than was reported in library school. Briefs, litigation, legislative histories, yes, but that's not all. Attorneys really knew how to have a party and tie one on-and there was no entertainment budget limit. Dancing on mahogany tables? You bet. Renting a luxury motorcoach to go to Burning Man? Yup. Maybe it was just a San Francisco law "thing," but the attorneys I worked with understood the need to work hard and also to play hard. Interestingly, many of them had better manners than faculty members, and they loved a good time. To be sure, long hours and tough decisions defined law firm life, but I think there was a conscious link between high performance, good etiquette, and good humor.

Work and Wonder

The wondrous has a way of brightening our perspectives, and its presence online has fueled Web 2.0 ventures. Programmers were using terms like "avatar" in the 1980s to describe bits of code. My favorite "geeky verb" in technical manuals was "invoke"-it was used everywhere. I would mentally picture Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments parting the Red Sea every time I read, "invoke the 'sort' command by pressing the F8 key." As computers became more powerful, they also became more fun to use, and much design has been fueled by sheer imagination.

In storytelling class, I first read this poem by Shel Silverstein:

There is a place where the

sidewalk ends

And before the street begins

And there the grass grows

soft and white,

And there the sun burns

crimson bright

And there the moon-bird

rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint

wind. …

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