Gaps and Bridges, Bridges and Gaps

By Jason Griffey |

Susan McKinlay and Jason griffeyThere are many stories from the 2008 ALA Annual conference in Anaheim, from Google being MIA on the exhibition floor to what happens when a few hundred librarians descend onto Disneyland. But my favorite story from my time in Anaheim starts like this...

Cindi Trainor had wrangled myself, David Lee King, and Rachel Vacek out of the Hilton Anaheim in order to shoot a few portraits. We were heading around the edge of the building when we were stopped by a librarian reading that day's LA Times. Susan McKinlay was reading a story that involved the Apple iPod and stopped us to ask if we knew anything about them. Susan had, following up on her interest in the story, polled all of the librarians in line for Starbucks coffee as she exited the Hilton, and not one of them had an iPod.

Then she runs into the four of us...possibly the highest concentration of librarian gadgetry possible.

Each of us had an iPod with us, ranging from the older clickwheel-type, to my iPod Touch and David with a iPhone. I even had both an iPod Touch and a Zune, of all things. We took some time to explain the differences, and talked a bit about how iTunes worked with the iPod, how Rhapsody was different from both, and showed off what the newer touchscreen iPods could do besides just music (video, calendars, email, etc). We talked a little about the fact that my library and many others are starting to circulate iPods, but that no, they aren't nearly as rare as her informal poll might lead her to believe. She seemed to be surprised when we told her that everyone we know owns at least one of them, and was terrifically surprised at what the newest generation of them can do. The Touch and iPhone are basically small but fully-functional computers, that just happen to fit in your pocket.

We spent maybe 10-15 minutes talking to her about technology, exchanged cards so that she could get in touch with us later if she had questions, and proceeded to let Cindi take some pretty amazing pics of us.

So what is the (as they say in the business world) take-away from this chance encounter? What does this tell us about librarians and librarianship? I would not have put any amount of money on polling people in line at a Starbucks and having not a single one own an iPod...not in any city, anywhere. Apple has sold over 140 million of them, and they are without a doubt the market leader in mobile music. To have a couple dozen librarians in one place and none of them have an iPod shows how we, as a profession, are demographically out of step...especially with American youth (the demographic almost guaranteed to own one).

On the other hand, it illustrated to me the intrinsic willingness for librarians to ask questions, and seek out information on things with which they are unfamiliar. Each of us walked away from the encounter smiling, thrilled at the honest joy with which she really wanted to understand this "new" technology. It made me more determined than ever to find ways to extend the community of librarians who are technologically plugged in to the rest of librarians. Too often we insulate ourselves from each other, and it's time to find ways to increase communications. If the majority of librarians don't understand the iPod, how can we get to social software, semantic web, and other technologies? We do it by making these technologies available, by having technology playgrounds/toolchests for people to get familiar with them.

It was a really phenomenal reminder of the gaps, and bridges, that still exist in librarianship.