Connecting the Dots: Social Software and the Social Nature of Libraries

I’m in the process of cleaning up *everything* today — from half-finished projects to various tasks too long the victim of my procrastination. Yes, even my overflowing inbox of messages, all awaiting some kind of action by me, was addressed in some way (hitting the “delete” key became the fate of many).

As part of the cleanup, I deleted yet another pile of unfinished blog posts, but the one I did want to set free was a post about a recent issue of Feliciter that I had the good fortune to guest edit. Volume 52(2) of the Canadian Library Association’s Feliciter is themed around social computing and libraries.

I was happy to get involved with the association and very pleased to get a number of great librarians on-board to do some writing. It isn’t your typical Feliciter issue, but hopefully it found an audience amongst some of the membership.

Given that CLA does grant authors permission to post their articles to their own website, and given you otherwise have to be a member to read the articles at this time, I’ll join forces with Peter and answer Pam’s call by posting my short editorial below. [Paul – I just saw you posted about your writing today too].

Connecting the Dots: Social Software and the Social Nature of Libraries

Libraries have always been about connecting the dots. We connect people with information, we connect ideas to imaginations, and we connect individuals to communities. It’s little wonder then that social software continues to be a hot item on library conference programs and throughout library-centric publications, both online and offline.

Even with talk of the Web 2.0 movement , and its fledgling sibling, Library 2.0 , social software – the connection of people to people using software and the Net – continues to factor heavily in discussions of what is now and what is to be for libraries and the broader information landscape.

Social Software, succinctly defined, is “software that supports group interaction.” It too connects the dots between people and people, between people and their interests, and between what could be and what already is.

For those a little older, we’ve moved from a time when for most of us, the web remained a “read-only” technology, to an era where the many can now “read-write-and-participate.” But what does this really mean for libraries, information seekers, authors and publishers? How do we make sense of the new world of blogs, wikis, and tag-friendly users who dare question the practicality of our carefully chosen subject headings?

I suggest we start by opening up our collective eyes and ears and saying, “Show me the love!” That’s right, folks. We’re living in a time when users are actually showing their excitement for subject headings and the Tags formerly known as Metadata. Metadata – imagine! A time when people are enthusiastically cataloging and labeling books, websites, images, and now video!

A time when people are writing openly and honestly about books they’ve read, movies they’ve seen, politics they’re concerned about, and the best and worst practices of their occupations and professions! They’re creating their own encyclopedias – laden with opinion, true – but open to the criticism of any who dare read and contribute back to the entries. And why? You rarely get rich off blogging and spending time in Wikipedia. Why would anyone want to invest time into such a hobby?

Why? Because they’re passionate, they’re interested and they’ve been given a new toolkit. They’re passionate about their chosen professions, their hobbies, their interests, and what’s going on in the world around them.

They see a benefit to connecting to other people, both within their local circle and beyond. They’re interested in sharing their knowledge, experiences and opinions, and to connecting on some level with others who may just be interested in connecting those very same dots.

Hmm. Much of this sounds like what libraries have always tried to encourage and facilitate. That is, the sharing of information in a free and open environment where dialogue will root out truth, truthiness and downright falsehoods. Where a diversity of opinion and freedoms of expression are not only respected but actively promoted and fostered.

Where information literacy skills are taught in the hopes that people learn how to engage with information, the media, publishers and the academy with an eye to understanding for themselves what is makes sense and what ought to raise eyebrows.

A talented pool of library writers have come together to create what we hope will be an interesting and engaging issue. You’ll learn about Wikipedia, blogs, RSS, social bookmarking, tagging, and the growth of citizen journalism. Consider these topics carefully as you plot where library dots fall within the social fabric of the Internet.

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