Wednesday, August 29, 2007

socializing is fundamental

When I was in library school, I read The Social Life of Documents (published in the first issue of first monday, May 1996) and it changed me.

[from the introduction]: Seeing documents as the means to make and maintain social groups, not just the means to deliver information, makes it easier to understand the utility and success of new forms of document. This social understanding of documents should better explain the evolution of Web as a social and commercial phenomenon.

I started to think about librarians (as people) and libraries (as institutions) not only as archivists, collectors, organizers, retrievers, and deliverers of information, but also as facilitators of social engagement; building capacity in individuals (not just knowledge) and building communities (local and otherwise) through connection between those individuals.

My colleague Andy Havens recently reminded me where it had all started for me when he pointed out some very interesting historical data on library circ numbers (his words), recently published (in Book Circulation Per U.S. Public Library User Since 1856) by Douglas Galbai, a senior economist at the FCC. Mr Galbai's research indicates that "historically established institutions (libraries) significantly stabilize borrowing behavior." But why?

[from the conclusion]: Borrowing books from public libraries is well-connected to a variety of institutions and values. Much of the pleasure from reading may be derived from discussing a book with friends who have also read the book. The desire to discuss books among friends may constrain the rate at which individuals will read books. At the same time, persons may value going to the library as an activity in itself. Borrowing library items may be in part a by-product of interest in those visits.

Coincidentally, our upcoming survey investigating privacy and information sharing on the web indicates that people who engage in social networking actually read more than those who do not. Really? Coincidence?

Could it be, asked Mr. Havens, that social networking could be one reason that people read more? When I have people with whom I have enjoyable book and reading discussions, would I tend to read more?

Ya think??

More than a decade has passed since the publication of The Social Life of Documents. But discussions around the social nature of our work seems to only recently be getting recognition in the professional library discourse. Sometimes I'm encouraged and engaged by the conversation. Sometimes I think to myself: why are we disconnected from this history? And why is this taking so long?

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