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Thoughts that resonate.

Have you ever attended an event where a speaker shares an idea that just sticks, puts forth a remark that resonates with the crowd, or says something that becomes the buzz of the show?

Sure, you've seen it happen, but it doesn't happen at every conference you attend. And it's not something that can be scripted or promised in advance.

I had the thrill of attending two events late last fall that each featured a keynoter who put forward one of those rare but sticky ideas that simply stuck with the crowd.

R. David Lankes, professor and Dean's Scholar for the New Librarianship and director of the Information Institute of Syracuse at Syracuse University, didn't even have to appear in person on stage in London to make an impact on the collective consciousness of attendees at Internet Librarian International (ILI), organized by Information Today Ltd. Due to health issues, Lankes was beamed into the auditorium, but many live keynoters didn't perform so well or captivate an audience so fully.

He reminded attendees that "the core of librarianship is not how we stack and manage facilities; the core is how we help people navigate knowledge and be knowledge creators.... Librarianship has moved from sharing to lending. We need to move back."

Lankes' notion of getting librarians back to their roots was definitely food for thought, but what really resonated with the crowd was when he suggested that we quit referring to people who come into libraries as users or patrons, or even customers, but rather as members, as in members of a knowledge network.

Subsequent speakers did not necessarily agree with the idea of using the word "member" in place of library users or patrons, but at the event, "member" became synonymous with the idea that libraries should recast their mold.

Two weeks earlier at Information Today, Inc.'s KMWorld conference, David Weinberger, co-director of Harvard Library Innovation Lab at Harvard University and author of the books Too Big to Know, Everything Is Miscellaneous, and The Cluetrain Manifesto, also said something that resonated with the audience and during the rest of the conference.

Weinberger started his talk by reflecting on the classic meaning of knowledge in our traditional society. "We have believed in one knowledge," he said, "a single truth that is shared and agreed upon." That's because our brains are small; it's "just a kilogram of matter that wants to understand everything," he says. Our strategy up until now has been to reduce what can be known into brain-sized chunks to be carried around by experts. When we wanted to know something, we would go to the experts or read their books, which librarians would classify and store.

"Intelligence no longer resides with the person at the front of the room," Weinberger said, "but [with] people in the room itself." Knowledge no longer just resides someplace; it emerges from knowledge networks.

This kind of outside-the-box thinking is not alien to those engaged in knowledge management careers and those attending KMWorld 2012. They accepted what Weinberger was saying, but what really resonated with the crowd and subsequent speakers was when he admonished the audience to "embrace messiness." Rather than continue to seek a single truth, he said, we need to appreciate the power of disagreement and differences of opinion and, in fact, enable fruitful disagreement and encourage "odd-ball connections" that add new meaning.

In subsequent talks and discussions at KMWorld, Weinberger's concept of messiness became synonymous with the idea that in developing and deploying information systems, we should not seek one-size-fits-all solutions, try to fit everything into neat classifications, or depend entirely on the wisdom of experts.

Intrigued by Lankes' and Weinberger's insights? Read their new books: Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today's Complex World by R. David Lankes (R. David Lankes, 2012) and Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger (Basic Books, a Member of The Perseus Books Group, 2012).

Dick Kaser is Information Today, Inc.'s vice president of content. Send your comments about this column to
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Title Annotation:BEHIND THE LENS
Author:Kaser, Dick
Publication:Information Today
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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