“Every Campus Library Is At Risk To Google” Says McNealy

I attended the first keynote address at EDUCAUSE this morning. Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, had some interesting things to say. His themes illustrated how interconnected the higher education and computing industries are, and that globally these two can advance education. He said we have moved from the information age to the participation age. It’s no longer about retrieving information on the net, but about everyone and everything happening in a participative community. He said “It’s about contributing via social networks.” This resonated with me because I’ve been thinking that academic libraries need to figure out where we fit into this participation age. Sure, we’re blogging at our libraries, but how do we create communities in which our faculty and students participate. For the most part, I doubt they even read academic library blogs or contribute to them. We need to get integrated into the blogging and wiki activity that is happening in the classroom. We are already doing this to some extent within courseware, but we need to explore these frontiers further. What didn’t resonate with me was McNealy’s statement that “every library on every campus is at risk to Google. The digital natives are on Google so fast that they don’t even know there is a library.” I wish I could have handed him a copy of the Chronicle’s special report on libraries from a few weeks ago – they are giving them out at the Chronicle booth in the exhibit hall. Like many IT experts, I don’t think he has a real clue about what’s happening in academic libraries – but let’s not deceive ourselves that we have no competition. My favorite – his top ten list of excuses for not handing in homework in the digital age. It included, “My cut and paste keys on the keyboard are worn out” and “I plan on open sourcing my homework from the kid next to me” – good stuff. If you want to follow more of what is happening at EDUCAUSE (beyond my occasional posts) there is lots of conference blogging and podasting to be found on the EDUCAUSE site.

7 thoughts on ““Every Campus Library Is At Risk To Google” Says McNealy”

  1. Hmmm…. I need to give this more thought. One major mistake in thinking there is on one side “information” and on the other “participation” is the benighted idea that reading is passive and solitary. It’s actually active and social (unless you’re not really reading, but merely moving your eyes across a page or screen). We don’t absorb meaning through reading, we compose it, and we compose it in a social framework.

    This sounds like the equally benighted notion of a few years back that anything electronic and hyperlinked is active and nonlinear and print is passive and linear. You know, if you merely read the paper (and think about it and talk about it and connect it with other things you’re reading and experiencing and perhaps even change the way you behave) you’re not “involved” – but you are when you get to post your words to a blog.

    Reading and learning have always been participatory. Retrieving information is nothing without acting on in one way or another. (And chosing to retrieve, what to retrieve, and how to interpret it are participation.)

    Maybe I’m missing the point – but I’ve never known anyone to really get excited about retrieving information unless they’re planning to do something with it. And I don’t see that as something new.

  2. The something new is more and more of us are tuned into the wealth of information that is “out there.” I am excited about retrieving information — and it seems to come around to be put to good use. When a graduate student asks me where she can “find some information about . . .” I have experience in using the tools she naturally flows to. Selected blogs are absolutely necessary for academic information. From the excellent Georgia State Library Blog to the increasingly interesting information on DayPop, LISNews and my all time favorite, beSpacific.

    And, bless Google Scholar! I mean it and I’m not sorry. This is everyone’s chance at information worth talking about. That graduate student in the paragraph above had the topic: bullying, adolescent, disabilities, and asperger. She had never heard of Google Scholar and this librarian introduced them. The citation method of research is so easily explained using this program that when we moved into PsychInfo and SSCI (and other databases for those over 30) we’re ready for those scholarly forward and backward citations.

    Academic librarians are not only keeping up but they are using the new formats of information in innovative ways. Now, how do we take this to the faculty and into the classroom? Hasn’t this always been the question? The emphasis at our information conferences? … how, oh how, do we get the faculty “up to date” and “involved?” Somehow, we all seem to get what we need. Keep stopping the professors in the hallways and introducing ourselves at faculty meetings. Keep open to their needs and . . . surprise them with exactly what they need to find their answer.

  3. I think you make some good points about the connection between information and participation. McNealy was, I think, speaking more about a transition from our fascination with being able to rapidly access information – even if we hadn’t thought much about what we planned to do with – to a new age where just getting the information is not the end (and as you suggest it never has been), but what we do with the information in our collaborative setting is more important. What struck me about this part of McNealy’s talk is that as librarians we need to perhaps be more in tune with the participatory part and less focused on the information part.

  4. That makes sense – certainly paying attention to how people learn, how they choose to negotiate what’s available, and being involved in those processes without being too prescriptive … I can dig it. I am often frustrated that we spend so much time on the gadgetry and not much on what actually they reveal – and how to make good choice among the stuff that one finds.

    An interesting parallel to what Lisa says – in a sense the citation network makes participation visible. All of these people are in conversation together! They’re building on one another’s work, or taking issue with it. That’s a dynamic that we need to make visible.

  5. This touches on a topic to which increasingly I have been drawn in recent times. What would it mean to deliver a library service *only* through available and widely used services (Flickr, Google, Delicious, etc) or tools (RSS, Blogs, Firefox extensions, bookmarklets). This may be too strong a restriction, but it does make one think about options.

    I borrow a picture to discuss this in the presentation I have just given at Access 2005:

    The Library and the Network: Flattening the Library and Turning it Inside Out
    Access 2005, Edmonton, Alberta (Canada)
    (4.9MB/43 slides)

  6. Thanks for passing that along. Sounds like a good conference – and it’s an interesting presentation. One thing it made me do is wonder how I would map my “personal learning landscape.”

    Another question I keep mulling: our students find library tools utterly baffling – but a lot of them also don’t pay attention to blogs, wouldn’t know an RSS feed if it bit them on the ankle, and get easily frustrated learning new technology whether it’s ours or just out there. I keep hearing this generation is so into this stuff and will delightedly explore library resources if we blend them into their technologies, but so many students I talk to find most new technology either alien or alienating.

    Is there a way to make what we do more accessible even to those who don’t use six impossible technologies before breakfast? And how does our sense that we need to be outside and where people are jibe with the sudden enthusiasm for libraries as physical and social places?

  7. We need to keep an eye on what is going to become ‘part of the furniture’. RSS will be native to all major browsers soon and will not require any great initiation.

    Two things have just come over my horizon which echo with this theme:

    1. Libx – http://www.libx.org/

    Sure, you have to install an extension. But you can do some nice things when you do.

    2. Flock – see news story at http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9588_22-5905922.html

    This is a new browser which integrates support for other tools. Only a developer version yet, and we don’t know how popular it will be.

    These represent a very specific and a rather general example respectively. But each indicates a trend: what we will see over the next couple of years is much greater browser integration of a range of tools and services, whatever the technique. Library stuff needs to be there.

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