CiL 2008 Keynote: Libraries Solve Problems!

Speaker: Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project

[Prez of InfoToday, in his introduction, announced that 2202 attendees are registered for this conference with 49 states (no one from Wyoming), Puerto Rico, D.C., and 18 countries (7 Canadian provinces) represented. 186 speakers and moderators this year!]

[House-keeping note from Jane Dysart: The men’s restroom on the ballroom level is now a women’s restroom, so the guys will have to go up to the exhibit level. There was much rejoicing.]

Rainie began by apologizing for not originally including librarians as stakeholders in the work of PIALP. This year, his new grant proposal lists librarians at the top, which was well received by the audience. He thanked librarians for their active involvement with the Pew project.

Bloggers were thanked for raising awareness of the Pew project, and for praising Rainie’s past presentations. Yay, bloggers! New media rocks. “Blogging is about community and connection as much as it is about publishing.”

In 2000, studies showed that most Internet connections were via dial-up, and no one was using wireless. In 2007, more than 50% of Americans now access the Internet via broadband, and 62% connect via wireless, both through computers or through cell phones. Wireless connectivity is decreasing the digital divide, and it also responsible for the resurgence of the value of email. “The reports of the death of email are premature.”

Information and communication technology tools are now so interconnected that it’s changing the way we think about information storage and retrieval. The Internet is becoming our storage device, which we access through various portals such as cell phones, TiVo, and yes, computers.

39% of online teens share their creative content through sites like Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. 33% of college students blog, and 54% read them. However, many are blogging through social networking tools or course management tools and they don’t necessarily identify them as blogs. Avatars are now considered to be creative content, which is something I hadn’t thought about before.

A recent grant research with funding from IMLS and in partnership with IUC, PIALP looked at how folks get information from government sources to solve problems. 79.5% of the adults surveyed had, in the past two years, had an information need that could have been satisfied by information from government agencies. Gen Y (18-30) were the most likely to have visited a library in their search for information (62%), followed closely by Gen X (31-42) at 58%. (Psst… 60% of online teens use the Internet at libraries, up from 36% in 2000!)

Don’t listen to the naysayers who claim that the Internet is killing libraries. Public library users are more likely to be Internet users. Those who are information seekers are more likely to be adventurous in exploring information sources. Broadband users are also more likely to use a public library, and there is no difference in the patronage of libraries based on ethnicity. Young adults are more likely to visit a library to solve a problem than any other age group!

Users talked to library staff to solve their information needs slightly more than using the technology provided by the library, which were the top two ways that they found solutions to their problems. Gen Y users are generationally most likely to return to a library. Rainie thinks that because Gen Y users have been forced to use libraries through school projects, and they have seen how libraries have grown and changed over the years to meet their needs, so they have a good feeling about libraries as a source for solving their problems.

Rainie’s take-away message is that libraries need to do more publicity about how they can solve problems. “The people who know you best are the ones that keep coming back.” Let’s tell our success stories to more than just each other, which we already do a pretty good job of. Give our fans the tools to evangelize and provide feedback, and they can have a significant impact on raising awareness of libraries. Create a comfortable environment for “un-patrons” so that they aren’t afraid to ask questions and learn the technology. Become a node in social networks. (For example, Facebook apps for searching library resources or communicating with reference librarians may not be as unwanted as we might think they are.)

Rainie is an engaging speaker that I look forward to hearing from him in the future.


There is something to be said about self-censorship. Sometimes it can be the difference between having a constructive conversation and simply pissing off the person you are trying to communicate with.

I’m a little behind on the liblog reading, as usual, so I only just came across K.G. Schneider’s redacted rant about having to write up her talk for NASIG. I happen to know a bit about the behind-the-scenes circumstances that lead to her post, and I should note that there’s a lot more to it than what her readers may think. However, that’s not the point I am going to make here.

Reading her original post, such as I could find in some serious Google archive searching, reminded me that NASIG is not always a well-oiled machine. Annual membership fees are $75 (raised from $25 two years ago — the first such increase in over a decade) and they cover things like the website hosting and listservs; we have no paid staff. Everything is done by volunteers who have full-time jobs and families and all that. So, it’s not uncommon for something to slip through the cracks, or for assumptions to be made, as in the case of Schneider’s write-up for the Proceedings.

The Proceedings editors do what they can to ensure that presenters are aware of what is expected of them, from the contract language to reminder emails to a speaker’s breakfast at the conference where it’s all reiterated. They do what they can, but sometimes it’s not enough.

How different is this from any other large organization? Even organizations with paid staff sometimes make mistakes, miscommunicate, or seem to have poorly chosen policies. I’ve been known to rant a time or two about them. However, I’m starting to step back a little and think about how it feels to be the target of a rant. I’m pretty sure that Schneider didn’t have me in mind when she wrote what she did, but as a Member-At-Large of the NASIG Executive Board, her words stung no less than if I was personally named.

Criticism is not necessarily a bad thing, but in order to be positively effective, it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t put the other in a defensive position. The anonymous commenter on Schneider’s post expressed much of what I was feeling, and I don’t blame them for choosing anonymity after such a pointed attack on their professional organization. In my not so humble opinion, Schneider could have gotten her point across about deadlines, contracts, and expectations much more effectively had she chosen to be less angry and abrasive about it.

And maybe I could do the same with my own occasional rant. There is something to be said about self-censorship. Sometimes it can be the difference between having a constructive conversation and simply pissing off the person you are trying to communicate with. The latter may win you some kudos from the angry-ranty crowd, but in the end it doesn’t help the situation.

a few things

On Sunday, I tried out Skype for the first time. I had installed it on my laptop and gotten a headset and microphone earlier in the week because I had a phone interview with Susan Werner scheduled on Saturday. I thought I could use Skype and record the conversation to my laptop. Instead, I ended up using a speaker phone and recording the conversation to minidisc. So, it wasn’t until Sunday that I decided to give it a go and call my parents via Skype’s free domestic calls special (until the end of the year). Impressive. The sound quality was better than what I usually get on my cheap cell phone.

The interview with Susan Werner was awesome and a lot of fun. My week has been a bit much, but I hope to have the transcript transcribed and edited for public consumption by Saturday. It will be posted here as well as on If you haven’t downloaded Susan’s alternative national anthem (“My Strange Nation”) yet, do it now.

Also on Sunday, I decided I’d better finally watch the two Netflix DVDs I’ve had for nearly two months. That was when I discovered I had misplaced them. After a frantic ten minute search of the house, I gave up and instead watched some stuff I’d downloaded a while ago. I let it simmer until last night, when in a flash of insight after some more searching I remembered one more place I might have stashed them, and there they were. However, by that point it was nearing midnight and I decided that Battlestar Galactica and Crash can wait for the weekend. Particularly since I’ll have Monday off, too!