Monday, November 23, 2009

New column on Web 2.0

This column appears in the SALALM newsletter. After consultation with various people, we've decided to publish it here too. Please let me know if you have any comments, questions or requests for future columns!
Alison Hicks
alison.hicks (at)

Hands up if you’re bored of the phrase “web 2.0” already? Who’s tired of thinking that if you’re not twittering/on facebook/creating iphone apps you’re tragically unhip? Who believes that web 2.0 is an overused, useless catchphrase that just gives students another excuse not to study and has no place in Latin American librarianship today? If you answered yes to any of these questions then this new column is for you!

Everyday we’re bombarded with journals and presentations and colleagues advocating that web 2.0 is the solution to all our problems, from student engagement to cataloguing, to world peace. Libraries are signing up in their droves to ensure that they have a facebook page and a twitter feed and if you don’t have a blog, well, you’re so twentieth century. Web twopointopia has taken over the planet- but is it worth it? Is it really the miracle solution that libraries have been looking for? And, does it really have a role in academia or in Latin American librarianship?

In this new column, I aim to explore the concept of Web 2.0 and to provide specific examples of how 2.0 can be useful for SALALM librarians today. I plan to show that there is academic value in some of these tools and to provide easy, non-technical introductions to the concepts so you can play along too. In future weeks I intend to cover how Web 2.0 is impacting book reviews and language learning tools among other things. I also want to hear what you would like to know about- so please feel free to challenge me to cover a tool or to solve a problem for you.

In this first column, I thought it would be useful to give a simple definition of Web 2.0. So, firstly, take a deep breath and forget everything that you know about Web 2.0. Because the most important concept about Web 2.0 is that it isn’t a thing, a tool or a trend that is limited to technology; rather, it is a state of mind. There are five main characteristics that define the state. Web 2.0 is collaborative because its ease of use ensures wide participation that depends on teamwork rather than individualism. It is communal because web 2.0 creates empowering connections between people with similar interests. It is creative because it uses and reuses material in novel ways. It is unControlled because there is not one centralised power controlling the web. Finally, and most importantly, web 2.0 is a conversation that changes us from passive to active consumers, giving us an online voice. It is for these reasons that Web 2.0 is a powerful force in society today, and has a growing role in academia and libraries.

Web 2.0 is permeating other areas of our lives too. Tivo, the digital video recorder is a great example of the 2.0 mindset. Traditionally, TV provided a package of information. Passive consumers had little flexibility about when or how they watched programs. With TIVO, however, live TV can be paused and shows are automatically recorded. TV companies are giving up control. Similarly, business is becoming more aware of 2.0. Companies used to be strictly hierarchical with all communication strictly monitored. They expected consumer brand loyalty. However, the most flexible businesses are giving up some of that control to enable a two-way conversation between the consumer and the producer. Zappos, the online shoe seller enables every service representative to have as much power to solve customer problems as the CEO. Wordpress, the blogging software, opened up its online support forum. This shows that it has glitches in its software but it also enables a faster response time and glowing testimonials. These examples show that Web 2.0 is changing markets, consumers, employees and companies. For these reasons, web 2.0 is much more than just a tool. I hope that the following columns will show how we can tap this sentiment in Latin American librarianship.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Presidential message...

During the last few weeks, I have received several emails and phone calls from SALALM members wishing to discuss their ideas for the Providence 2010 conference program, and also from others who simply wanted to express that they were glad to learn that SALALM would dedicate a whole conference to examining how recent technological and economic trends are transforming the way in which we make available documentation, information, and an important part of the cultural production from Latin America. To those who contacted me, thank you very much for your interest and support.

One of these callers also recommended stating more clearly to the SALALM membership why I think that this is an important and timely topic. I will follow the advice and be very straightforward.

Just as many SALALM members eloquently expressed during the New Orleans and Berlin conferences, I also am concerned about the potentially adverse effects that recent trends will have on the strength of future Latin American research library collections and, consequently, on Latin American Studies scholarship. New technologies, to be sure, do offer fantastic opportunities in the areas of publishing, scholarly communication and access delivery, among others. But the way in which research libraries - often forced by economic circumstances- are implementing new models of acquiring, processing, reformatting and sharing information may unintentionally produce not only negative, but irreparable consequences that will limit the possibilities for future Latin American Studies research.

For example, in one scenario that was discussed during the Berlin conference, research libraries continue to seek badly needed savings by uncritically adopting new acquisitions models that privilege large book distributors, discourage competition, and leave aside the smaller vendors that cannot afford to absorb new costs. The undesired outcome is the crippling of a bibliographic distribution network that SALALM successfully contributed to develop over several decades. With a diminished network, it becomes increasingly difficult and costly, if not impossible, to acquire the noncommercial, nonmainstream, and marginal materials that can only provide a balanced representation of the multiple perspectives, sectors and voices found across Latin American societies. If that scenario becomes a reality, it would represent a major failure on the part of the research libraries. What can and should we, as an organization and as individuals, do about this?

It really is not a matter of resisting change or of sticking to the practices that we know well. It is a matter of first, assessing both the opportunities and the risks presented by those trends, and then advocating for and putting forward the arguments in favor of the practices and strategies that will ensure that research libraries will continue to support Latin American Studies research well into the future. All of this will require increasing levels of collaboration and dialogue within and beyond SALALM. Hopefully, our 2010 meeting in Providence will serve as a broad forum for moving in that direction.

On a different note, as most of you surely know, SALALM isn’t exactly in great financial shape. To generate some savings, the Executive Board recently accepted a recommendation from the Finance Committee requesting that SALALM ceases to contribute matching funds to the Marietta Daniels Shepard Scholarship Fund. As SALALM’s Treasure Jane Garner explained, the scholarship fund has already reached and exceeded the endowment goal. At this moment, what the School of Information at the University of Texas-Austin ( really needs from SALALM is assistance in finding qualified candidates who can make use of the scholarship. The Marietta Daniels Shepard Scholarship Fund’s objective is to support “a student who is committed to fostering the development of libraries in Latin America and the Caribbean by pursuing a professional career in one or more of the countries of Latin America or the Caribbean.” If you know potential candidates who may benefit from the scholarship, please refer them to UT’s School of Information.

Hasta la próxima!