The Great Pumpkin Farm Community

By Tom Peters | Last Friday afternoon at OPAL, Jami Schwarzwalder presented an interesting talk online about the information lifestyles of members of the Millennial generation. (A recording of her talk has been added to the OPAL Archive.) Although the name and the date ranges vary, Millennials can be defined as those born between 1980–2000. They constitute the largest generation within the current U.S. population, with the Baby Boomers a close second. (BTW, what are we calling the generation born since 2000, the Y2K Outcomes?)

The Great Pumpkin-Farm Community One of the memorable moments in Jami's presentation came before she officially got started. As people gathered in the online auditorium, Jami co-browsed the group to a YouTube video called The Great Kodo, made by a creative Millennial. It is a mashed-up homage to some of the creatures and quests of the World of Warcraft, a three-dimensional virtual-reality environment. Evidently one quest in WoW involves saving the pumpkin farm. The video is very creative, but it also includes many creatures, landscapes, and other expressions from an existing popular recreational pursuit.

Apparently the Millennials are really into this type of cultural-content remixing. My hazy understanding of current U.S. copyright law is it does a much better job of protecting the right to express parody and satire than it does of this type of mashed up, remixed homage. If true, this legal emphasis provides an interesting glimpse into the soul of our culture.

YouTube was also on my mind last Friday, because rumors were circulating that Google had made an offer to purchase YouTube for $1.6 billion. YouTube, the video-sharing site that launched late last year and has become wildly popular (delivering approximately 100 million video clips per day—now that's a circulation stat!), but has yet to turn a profit. Already YouTube has garnered approximately half of the market share of online video sharing, outdistancing MySpace (approx. 25 percent) and Google Video (approx. 10 percent).

Jami's online talk fueled my fears that the paths of "library and information science" on one hand, and the "lived information lives of the Millennials and the Y2K Outcomes" on the other, are diverging. Collecting, organizing, describing, and archiving information is a noble pursuit, but YouTube and other recent information phenoms have added a layer of sharing, community building, and re-creation that is sadly lacking in older information systems, such as newspapers, television, and libraries.

Saturday morning the New York Times ran an article (no-cost subscription required) about the rumored offer from Google for YouTube. In the piece, Charlene Li, a market analyst at Forrester Research, noted, "YouTube figured out what Google and Yahoo and Microsoft and all the others in the marketplace didn't. It's not about the video. It's about creating a community around the video."

My short list of crucial, complex concepts fundamental to current and future information systems includes "access" and "community." One challenge facing libraries is, historically, they are associated with built (or a-buildin') communities. Librarians don't usually think in terms of building the library first, then building a community around it.

Rays of hope for the future of libraries, however, abound. The types and amounts of library-related activities in Second Life, the three-dimensional virtual-reality environment, in the past six months have been astounding. Lori Bell, the Director of Innovation at the Alliance Library System in Illinois, has provided a tremendous amount of leadership to the worldwide group of volunteer librarian-avatars. The official grand opening of Info Island—really, it's an Info Archipelago now, because there is a growing cluster of islands in Second Life—will be held later this week through a diverse series of events. The planning and building won't stop with the grand opening. Already additional islands and services are in the works.

And last week the Alliance Library System and the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County announced a partnership to develop a library island in Teen Second Life. According to the press release, “The goal of 'Eye4You Alliance' is to create an interactive and informative space for young adults within the Teen Second Life virtual world and to collaborate with other educators who serve youth and are already present in Teen Second Life…." Matt Gullett and Kelly Czarnecki from PLCMC are co-leaders of the Teen Second Life Library project.

If libraries want to save the great pumpkin farm community rather than buy the farm, we need to foster and facilitate online information communities.
Editor's Note: Jenny Levine's upcoming issue of LTR, "Gaming and Libraries: Intersection of Services" examines the implications and benefits of virtual-reality technology (e.g., the Second Life Library) for libraries as well as examines gaming services (with case-history examples of gaming services in public, academic, and in school libraries) offered by libraries. Available in early November 2006.
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