Welcome To May’s Guest Blog Post

Following the interest generated by Roddy MacLeod’s guest blog post last month I am planning on having a regular slot from guest bloggers.

This month’s guest blog post is from Sheila Webber of the Information Literacy blog.

Webbed or Web Sceptic? You Decide!

Hi to all Brian’s blog readers and thanks to Brian for inviting me onto his blog.

When Brian asked me to guest here, I thought I’d write about the division that seems to be growing up between:

a) those information professionals who mostly gather and disseminate information to their peers in a webly fashion (I shall call these people the Webbed), and
b) those for whom all this faffing around on the web seems (frankly) a waste of time (I shall call these Web Sceptics).

My argument is that this seems to be adding to the existing divisions in our fragmented information profession. And, perversely, in some ways I think it’s getting harder to get into this Webbed information existence the more interesting information there is out there on the web.

In the past (generalising wildly) where you went for news and information about the information/library world tended to be driven by:

  • the sector you work in; plus
  • your specialist interest; plus
  • your geographic location.

However, from what I can see, an extra element “how you prefer to consume your information & interact with your peers” (Webbed or Web Sceptic) has been thrown into the mix.

This has been creeping up on us for a while, of course, but I now know people who mostly rely for their information (and a good deal of interaction) on blogs, online conference presentations, RSS feeds and so forth. On the other hand, I also know people:

  • who think blogs are vacuous ramblings,
  • who regard time spent faffing round the internet as time wasted,
  • who would see print publications as their formal information channel, and
  • would be highly sceptical of the idea of making useful professional contacts via Internet engagement.

And these Web Sceptics can be interesting, dynamic information professionals. It’s just that they don’t much like hunting out or consuming their information online.

What may also be happening is that people who write about the information world are tending to one mode or the other. Now, here I’m biased by my own experience, since I use to write a huge amount for Inform (the Institute of Information Scientists newsletter), fairly often for Information World Review and now and then for Library and Information Update.

Once I started blogging, though, basically I stopped doing much print stuff for professional mags. One element is the time factor. Another is that they are different kinds of writing (further information on this is available); getting back into “print article mode” becomes a bit more difficult. A further one is that when I blog I don’t have to worry about some Editor changing the title, or snipping out sentences: I can publish what I like. Plus it’s published immediately. Plus people can respond more easily. And this makes such a nice contrast with writing for peer-reviewed journals (which I have to do as part of my job).

Anyway, Big Trends in the information world seem to get through to everyone who takes any interest in professional things (since Big Trends get picked up in all media channels, print or online). However, details on what people think, and who the important thought leaders are, and what the not-so-big trends are may vary depending on whether you are Webbed or Web Sceptic.

Although, as more and more stuff is happening on the web, there may be more pressure on Web Sceptics to go to the web, on the other hand, the very fact that there is now so much stuff out there is becoming a bit of a turn off.

Take conference blogging. Brian has just blogged Museums on the Web, and he quotes people who found it useful. Similarly, I’ve blogged conferences, and had people thank me for it, and I’ve enjoyed other people’s conference blogs.

But …. a week or so ago I dropped in on the wiki for the then ongoing Computers in Libraries. A day or so in, there were already 150 posts from assorted bloggers. Now there are over 350 blog posts and 1,300 photos.

I just wanted to get a feel of how the conference went: where on earth do I start? Unfortunately, those photos are just too distracting (have you seen the one in the Museums on the Web set of a delegate apparently drinking from a bidet?? What was that all about?). And presumably Web Sceptics would look at the 350 postings and 1,300 and say: told you so: what we need here is a bit of quality control and filtering, like you get in those old fashioned print magazines.

To be honest, I find it a lot easier to get a feel for the conferences where there are just a few people blogging. Faced with 350 posts what I’m probably going to do is look for names of bloggers I know, and just follow their thoughts. I’m aware of the blogosphere expanding (even a year ago I think I knew about all the information literacy blogs, now I’m sure I don’t) with all sorts of useful stuff. There only being 24 hours in the day I’m carving out my own view of the information world, influenced most by the voices I hear online rather than the voices in print publications. I think this is also influencing who I talk to at conferences, who I correspond with most via email and so forth.

So I come back to what I said at the start, I think that this is probably fragmenting still further what is lumped together as “the library and information profession”. Within an organisation, this can be a good thing, if getting different perspectives from employees is seen as a positive thing, and reward and status isn’t associated with just one kind of information-world-view. I think in some organisations this might be a big “If”.

I also think it is making it even more difficult for any one national organisation to say it is the “voice” of the profession. There are lots of communication and news channels growing up that have no affiliation with any particular professional organisation. There are growing numbers of podcasts (e.g. Talking With Talis, UC Berkeley Webcasts, Information Literacy 2006 conference), presentations and online courses (e.g. Five Weeks to A Social Library), not to mention virtual shindigs in Second Life, which mean professional development via online is more of an option. I still feel meeting people face to face in real life is important for good relationships. But I wonder whether the role of associations in mediating this is getting less important?

As you might have gathered, I would see myself more in the Webbed category (with my name, I suppose I have to). And possibly the fact that I’m contributing to the online information universe as well as consuming it is an important part of being Webbed rather than Web Sceptic.

What do people think? Is this not a potential split at all, just a phase? Am I wrong to think that the Webbed and Web Sceptics are developing different information-world–views – it’s more than just reading things in different media? Am I right in thinking that in some ways it is getting more challenging for a Web Sceptic to start to become Webbed? Will associations and commercial information publishers start taking back some of the Webbed ground?

I’m hoping people will have some comments!

Sheila Webber