Recently participatory culture and the philosophies pertaining to the FOSS / FLOSS movement have been making themselves impossible to ignore in both my reading and my plain old everyday life. It seems everyone wants to model everything from architecture to beer production based on this. My next few entries will be about all that, but I’ll start w/ something positive that is directly related to libraries and learning.
First, I want to mention this Clay Shirky article. I haven’t read his book “Here Comes Everybody” yet, so I can’t speak to it. This article does a good job describing the rise of participatory culture. The basic argument is that the world has been faced with a great cognitive surplus in the 20th century since we’ve industrialized in a manner that saves us basically saves us time and headspace. So we have a lot of free time, and we’ve chosen to fulfill our cognitive surplus by watching a ton of TV and becoming complacent read-only media consumers. His argument, which I like, is that this was all a brief transitional phase and that we are well on our way out of this lump-like couch potato era. Shirky says that via networked technologies individuals are already empowered to be great creators, remixers, and organizers. It is no longer satisfying to just digest material, it becomes part of the norm to process and redistribute it. While in the past media consumers have been “readers”, now they are “read/writers”.
As a creative person and as a person working in education (that’s librarianship, right?) I find this realization and transition encouraging, but I begin to wonder about the effectiveness of our educational tools. I’m part of a generation steeped and brewed in books, radio, and television, all of which are read-only media. Shirky tells a story at the end of his article about a four year old girl investigating the back side of a television for a mouse because she couldn’t even comprehend the idea of NOT interacting with media. Frankly his story sounds like bullshit, but the point is ripe for the plucking. So how do we engage and teach this child? The interaction of recreational video games is seductive, and schools can make organic chemistry or environmental science just as seductive by employing gaming style learning systems in classrooms. But what about engaging kids outside of the classroom, what about exploring knowledge, information and media in their free time? That is where the public library comes into play.
It sounds to me like the people at Illinois Institute of Technology are addressing just this with the ThinkeringSpace project. The best way to really understand the project aside from spending some time on the site and admiring their research, is to read the following posts from the Shifted Librarian blog in order.
The ThinkeringSpace project encourages content creation in the library, it exposes paths between information entities, it bridges the physical and digital worlds, it is portable, and all around awesome as far as I can see. I think my only real issue with it as of thus far is that it is focused on using the physical library as “third place” and doesn’t consider bridging into digital “third place” by pushing content to mobile devices. Much has been written about how mobile devices can be seen as extensions of space- for example if I start text messaging one friend while I’m at dinner with another, I am redefining my spatial parameters and orientation. It seems inevitable at this point that the act of “checking out” library material in the future will involve some kind of device, most likely a phone. When content becomes mobile it changes the definition of a “third place”.