May 3, 2008

One Big Library Unconference: Filling up fast!

Sitting here at my computer at around noon on Saturday, May 3rd the registration for the One Big Library stands at 61. We're planning to cap it at around 80, due to the size of our venue. Overall, I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by the speed that the registrations have been flowing it. It shows that there's a terrific interest in our concept.

The variety of people that have registered is also gratifying. We have people coming from a good cross section of Ontario post-secondary institutions as well as from public, school and other libraries. Not to mention a good number of recent grads from various library schools. We also have a few of people from outside the library world too.

The breadth of topics and sessions that have been proposed is also very encouraging for the event itself. As is the reaction so far around the web.

Which brings me to Walt Crawford's post.

And there’s something about it that bothers me. Namely, the premise as stated in that first paragraph.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it as a reality or as a desirable future. I don’t think of Harvard College Library as a branch of The ARL Library, much less Mountain View Public Library, Harvard College Library, NYPL, Hewlett-Packard Corporate Libraries and the Poy Sippi Public Library as all being branches of One Big Library.

I think of all these as distinctive and distinctly local institutions–institutions which, being libraries, are really good at sharing and should get even better at it. But sharing is quite different than being a branch of a whole.

Reading Walt's comments and re-reading our goals I can see how it's possible to see our aims as homogenizing rather than unifying and I guess we could have been more explicit. Please read the comments on Walt's post where Laura Crossett, David Fiander, Connie Crosby and John Miedema all seem to have a pretty good idea of what we're trying to do: focus on co-operation and collaboration among libraries and librarians in meeting the needs of our patrons. But there will always be tension between centralizing and decentralizing forces in any organization or consortium of organizations, a tension that can be negative but that can also be constructive and creative.

As wary as I am to post on the York institutional and/or the Ontario/Scholars Portal contexts, I can say that both of those come equipped with a some small portion of the centralizing and homogenizing impulses that are in a creative tension with intensely local patron needs. And both contexts also have librarians and staff that want to build something together while at the same time being loyal to their local patron communities. We want to collectively and collaboratively build something wonderful and terrific for the benefit of everybody as well as maintain our individual identities. Maybe the One Big Library it's just in the air here. And if some of that tension comes out at the conference, well, that's healthy too.

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