Exit the Echo Chamber
04/07/2011 8 Comments
I read another blog post the other day in which the term library echo chamber was used to describe professional discourse that goes unnoticed by every person in the universe who works outside the Info Circle. There’s been a lot of talk lately about the library science intellectual vacuum and it’s occurred to me that many librarians and students may wonder how they can make their professional voices heard on the other side of the library walls.
One very convenient solution occurred to me while talking with a colleague. Our discussion settled on how libraries and library-related issues have been treated by different areas of the press. The FOX News piece of last summer was ill-conceived and summarily swarmed upon by everyone from library patrons and students to librarians to the director of the Chicago Public Library. It was a sophomoric story–a regrettable attempt by a girl who may or may not have known she was kicking a beehive. But create a buzz it did. Other stories around the country have garnered similar attention and LIS people have piled on.
Still, plenty of library stories show up on news sites and blogs and receive no attention at all. It’s occurred to me that these are missed opportunities for library people to connect outside the echo chamber. A few weeks ago, I noticed a little piece in one of our local fishwraps, submitted by a patron of the Chicago Public Library who was curious about a new change in ILL and circulation. I knew the change had something to do with the number of trucks being used to carry materials among the system’s branches, but as I don’t work for CPL, I certainly didn’t know enough to give a decent explanation and would be no help the curious patron. No big deal. Some good CPL employee would see this and supply an informed response, right? Curious, I looked for a reply the following day and was surprised to find that no one had commented at all. A little opportunity, but a missed opportunity nonetheless.
How can we little library voices express ourselves outside the echo chamber? One simple way starts with a daily check of what the rest of the world is saying about us. When you see a library-related story or opinion piece on a news site, study it and gauge whether the discussion is one to which you can contribute. When we contribute to these types of articles, we’re sharing with the general public. We’re helping readers (and often the writers) to understand library issues from an insider’s point of view. Librarians are the victims of our own underrepresentation. We should take every opportunity to share what libraries and librarians do, how each is evolving, and what communities have to gain from us.
A tip: Be academic. There are a few remarks left on my cyber footprint that I’d definitely like to have back, including the ones I left on the aforementioned FOX piece. Yikes. No matter that my comments received “likes” from 46 people. I could have and should have done better. Too often our contributions to discourse are the result of reactionary writing while ill or on little sleep, food, or java. We always need to comport ourselves better when submitting any material for public evaluation. (Some fruit and a fiber bar might be a good idea, too.) As I’ve written before, you never want to submit something for broad consumption which may later prove a source of regret. Treat any public comment as you would treat materials submitted to a professor. Assume your audience is intelligent. Be clear, concise, and professional. Organize your thoughts and write your submission out entirely as a Word doc. Edit it well and paste it onto the message board. Mention that you’re a librarian, archivist, cataloguer, LIS student, or whatever it is that qualifies you to make your remarks.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll get so comfortable writing and contributing in this way that you’ll decide you don’t need to start that LIS blog you’ve been kicking around. Who wants to be trapped inside this lousy echo chamber, anyway? It’s noisy and crowded in here.