The Shifted Librarian -

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* Saturday, May 20, 2006

How's that ALA L2 Course Going?

A couple of weeks ago, ALA, the Otter Group, Michael Stephens, and I launched the ALA Library 2.0 Boot Camp online for 50 participants to explore how Web 2.0 tools could help ALA and its members. Some stuff has happened this week that I need to respond to here. I'm in a unique position to do this, as I have never had a real relationship with my national organization, I don't have anything to sell, I have disparaged ALA in the past, and I'm on the inside of the course so I have more background for what is going on than anyone else.

First, a disclaimer. No one has asked me to write this post, no has suggested what I should say, and no one has seen the content ahead of time. What I say here (and this is why it's on my blog and not the main ALA L2 one) is strictly my own opinion and perspective.

Second, what others have said so far:

Third, I want to point everyone to a description of the team projects for the course and Mary Ghikas' post explaining the concept for what she hoped would happen as additional resources to round out the debate. I'm sure I'm missing other things, but this is a good start. (Actually, I have a lot of posts from the participants themselves that I want to link to, but then this post would not be the relatively short and direct summary I hope it ends up being.)

Fourth, I agree with a lot of the criticisms detailed in the above posts from my fellow bloggers. I dislike a lot of things about the Blogware software, and I don't understand why we can't fix things like the fixed-width stylesheets, podcasting enclosures, and commenting (can we allow anonymous commenting with captchas?). Having said that, I don't think there is any one perfect blogging tool out there, especially one that I would have had time to set up for this course. I'm still trying to find the right aggregator for me, but BlogBridge's ease of use with dynamic OPML files is really impressive (more on this in a separate post). I'm also not a podcaster, so I can appreciate the ease-of-use of the podcasting backend Otter provided, even though in my own presentations I suggest a different method for libraries that want to get started at no cost to them. Frankly, it never occurred to me that the backend wouldn't include a fully-functional enclosure in the feed, but we've been able to work around that and then fix it.

Which happened thanks to the bloggers. Personally, I appreciate every single one of their posts, criticisms, and suggestions. Everything they've written has improved the course, and I would not expect them to back off in any way just because Michael and I are involved in it. Kudos to them and please keep helping us improve the course further. In fact, we are really hoping you'll join the discussions when the project teams start opening up their drafts and proposals for outside comment.

So given all of this, here is the view from where I sit. Kathleen Gilroy from the Otter Group approached me in October 2005 about being faculty for a course about Library 2.0 that she was pitching to ALA. I literally laughed in her face that ALA would never do such a thing. She said she was bringing the mountain to Mohammed and if she did it, would I agree to be faculty? I said sure, never believing for a moment that ALA would actually do it, meaning I promptly forgot about it and filed it away as "would have been interesting."

Well, Kathleen did it, ALA agreed to do it, and then Michael agreed to embark on this little adventure with me. Color me surprised and knock me over with a feather.

So even if the Otter Group had done nothing else, I would still give Kathleen full credit for moving that mountain. I don't think I could have done it. But Otter also offered a ready-made suite of tools that let ALA jumpstart the course much faster than it probably otherwise would have. Disagree with the tools all you want, but we'd probably still be forming the committee to discuss the project without them. At least this way we have something to react to and ALA gets a sense of what works and what doesn't. I'm not defending the choices, so much as explaining there was a rationale for using them to get started sooner rather than later. And believe me - no one is getting rich off of this. So I'd like to propose that the debate move forward to add to the list of software issues so that we come up with a set of criteria for the next time we run this course.

In addition, though, Otter also provided very knowledgeable people to get the backend going and guide the process as it started. I don't know thing one about LiveMeeting or setting up podcasting for 50 people, but they did. They've been great about providing tech support, and Kathleen has helped facilitate a lot of the process. She hired Michael and me for our expertise, and while I would like a little more reliance on that expertise, I'm thrilled with the course itself so far and every day I see something great one of the participants has said, done, learned, or put together.

In a world of constant change and perpetual beta, ALA took a leap of faith jump off the cliff to try something, even if it wasn't with the perfect mix of tools. I can't give them enough credit for this, and I want to end by saying how impressed I've been with the ALA staff involved with this project. Not just those folks administering it, but also the staff joining in as participants. ALA staff talking about blogging, comments, social tools, improving online learning, encouraging member participation, providing more feedback mechanisms for the membership, looking at how Web 2.0 tools might help a national advocacy movement, producing OPML lists of relevant professional feeds, reaching student members, and more? What the heck is going on here??

Something good. And everyone is joining in - ALA, the participants, the bloggers, etc. It's actually a great case study (maybe for the next time we run this!), and I hope we can all continue to learn from it. I hope the discussion continues in that direction. I already count this course as a success based purely on the blog posts, comments, half-completed projects, and commitments of time and energy from the participants. I personally have learned a lot, and I have a new view of my professional association as one that is more willing than I'd thought to try something different.

My colleague Kathryn Deiss gave me a great quote from John Cage: "I don't know why people are afraid of new ideas. I'm afraid of old ones," and Michael and I used it in the opening session because I think it's very relevant here. Here's to new ideas.

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