#echolib – the Seth Godin Uber-Echo Disaster

21 Jan

Just to add some more context to the discussion of moving beyond the echo-chamber (which is gathering pace on Twitter and in the blog comments here and in particular on Organising Chaos ) – I was discussing this whole thing with someone in an email, and it forced me to articulate the problem a bit more, so here’s an extrapolation of what I said.

The echo-chamber problem as it applies to the information profession, just to be clear, is good ideas being conveyed to like-minded people who then repeat it back to other like-minded people, who all agree about the ideas, but the whole process doesn’t ever reach the people who were not of like mind to begin with. Wikipedia describes the echo-chamber like this: “…any situation in which information, ideas or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission inside an “enclosed” space.”

The biblioblogosphere in particular is jam packed full of absolutely ace ideas, trends, memes, and inspirational people; the problem is how ‘enclosed’ the space is. I’m generalising here, but it seems like the people who really get the whole need to reinvent and revitalise libraries, and the role of the information professional, are the ones already online and reading what each other have to say. The dyed-in-the-wool librarians who like to kick it old-school and refuse to engage with the problems we’re facing, aren’t likely to be reading blogs, or sifting through Twitter, in the first place. So the initial problem is the best ideas are being kicked around in an enclosed space that only reaches people who start off receptive to exciting ideas, rather than getting to those who are resistant to change.

(A sub issue of this, as I’ve discussed previously, is that a lot of the newer professionals who spend time learning a whole host of insightful stuff via blogs etc, are not yet in a position of sufficient responsibility to apply what they learn to their 9-5 jobs.)

The wider issue is, we’re not reaching beyond the library in a lot of cases, either (or breaking out of the library ghetto, as Matthew Mezey so succinctly puts it!). So there’s me thinking I’m highlighting important issues at last year’s New Professionals Conference, talking about the way in which librarians are portrayed in popular culture, about how we are really, and about what we can do to change perceptions. But really, it was into the ech0-chamber – I was talking to other new professionals, and no one outside the library sector will have heard what I had to say, let alone been influenced to change their mind about librarians. (The version of that talk I gave at the CILIP Graduate Day was better in this respect, as non-librarians and potential librarians attended this.) I know some of the real uber-bloggers with thousands of followers do reach beyond the realm of the info pro, and that’s fabulous. But in a lot cases, the people getting to hear about all our cool new ideas are our existing users, and other Information Professionals.

The whole Seth Godin thing was something of a frustrating example of this. For anyone living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, Seth Godin is very, very popular and influential marketing guru, who recently turned the attention of his blog to the future of the library. Seth’s blog post asked the question, what should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age? The first sin, right there, is assuming we aren’t already relevant in the digital age. He went on to say: “Here’s my proposal: train people to take intellectual initiative.” Sin number two – this is a great idea, which is why we’ve been doing it for years already. And he also says: “…the net turns things upside down. The information is free now” which of course is massively over-simplistic (ie basically it’s not true) and so constitutes Sin number three.

What happened next was quite exciting, in that a lot of extremely articulate library bloggers took Seth to task on all the points above (and more) and really broke down what he said and set him straight. Andy Woodworth wrote an excellent article about it, in which he provided a list of quite a few of the other good responses, which I’ve copied here:  SarahGlassmeyer(dot)com, Digitization 101, Lucacept, Neverending Search, Blue Skunk Blog,, Justin the Librarian, A Curious View of the World, The MLXperience, Cathy Nelson’s Professional Thoughts, Library Idol. Of particular note is the post on theanalogdivide, which was one of the first responses to Seth’s original post and was widely re-tweeted (kicking off this whole thing), and has lots of extremely well argued points from Info Pros in the comments section – as well as a slightly bemused response from Seth himself; if you only have time to read two, read that one and Andy’s (his blog is the absolutely awesome Agnostic, Maybe).

This was inspiring stuff – a brilliantly reasoned, passionately articulated explanation of what we do, and a real statement of our value. The great and the good of online librarian presences combined to mount a spectacular defence of the profession, and of the library.

BUT. Seth Godin’s blog does not allow comments… so, the vast majority of the argument for the relevancy of libraries in the digital age etc took place in the enclosed space of the information professional’s online community echo-chamber. This is incredibly frustrating – because Seth’s global audience is massive, and will have all read his indictment of the profession, but the fantastic response from the profession will have fallen largely on the ears of our own community. And not only is he influential, he represents the views of a massive amount of potential library users – people do think libraries are not relevant in the digital age, they do think all information is free, and so on and so on. So the point of #echolib is to discuss how we can respond to this kind of thing beyond our enclosed space, and in the public arena…

- thewikiman

[EDIT: I have just had it brought to my attention that the Huffington Post article (which I'd read and enjoyed but shamefully forgotten to include in this blog post), was in fact written by Mr Theanalogdivide himself, Toby Greenwalt... This is a 100% proof fantastic example of well and truly escaping the echo-chamber - this is the kind of thing we need to be doing! So have a read of it, and take note of all the fantastically positive comments...]

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  • Ned Potter January 21, 2010 at 2:31 PM

    Blogged: The Seth Godin Uber-Echo Echo! Good times. #echolib

  • Ned Potter January 21, 2010 at 2:36 PM

    Just blogged the Seth Godin Uber Echo Disaster! #echolib

  • James Mullan January 21, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Just blogged the Seth Godin Uber Echo Disaster! #echolib

  • Ned Potter January 21, 2010 at 4:37 PM

    @theanalogdivide yes absolutely. Have updated to correct shameful omission of ref to Huffington! #echolib

  • Andy Woodworth January 21, 2010 at 6:12 PM

    Check out #echolib – the Seth Godin Uber-Echo Disaster @

  • Emma Cragg January 21, 2010 at 6:30 PM

    Check out #echolib & the Seth Godin Uber-Echo Disaster @ – awesome blog post by @theREALwikiman

  • Bethan January 21, 2010 at 8:00 PM

    excellent post! I especially like the point about comments not being allowed on Seth’s blog. While I can understand (I think!) his reasoning for this – difficulties of moderation; desire to control his space etc – it does mean that any discussion/refutation of what he says has to be done away from his authorised space. This means that – as far as readers of his blog are concerned – he will always have the last word. They will have to actively go and seek out any discussions around his ideas.

    [In fact, I've just found a link to the post where he describes why he doesn't have comments I also see that trackbacks are allowed, but they seem very out-of-date! The blog post under discussion only has one trackback, and that's not from any of the posts referenced here...]

    Is a blog without comments a soundproof chamber? or is it an echo-chamber where you can only hear your own voice?

  • thewikiman January 21, 2010 at 9:07 PM

    Oooh Bethan, harsh but nice blog without comments echo analogy!

    I can see why he doesn’t have comments too – afterall, a huge percentage of internet users are utter fools. So with his global audience, moderating the comments to seperate the wheat from the (vast amount of) chaff (“YEH mY libry wAS RUBBISH wen i was a kid thy always sed ssh wtf? lol” and so forth) would take more time than writing the blog. But it is a shame that reaction has to happen elsewhere. I love blog comments – it’s what makes the whole excersise communication rather than just narcicisim.

    I very carefully and deliberately put in a trackback to the original post, just to see if it worked. And, it didn’t. Sad times.

  • Andy Priestner January 22, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Just blogged the Seth Godin Uber Echo Disaster! #echolib

  • Bethan January 22, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    I did think that I’d been a bit harsh! But I wasn’t just meaning that the author of a blog without comments is only hearing their own voice – I meant it about the readers too. I rely on blog comments to help me see the opposite point of view, or to understand arguments that I hadn’t appreciated in the original post. If you don’t have that, you can end up only hearing your own response, and your own arguments which will – in an echo-chamber kind of way – get distorted as they bounce around. Or maybe it’s only my head that’s empty enough for that to happen ;)

  • Matthew Mezey January 22, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    ** PR WIKI IDEA **

    Hi Ned,

    As I think I also mentioned to you in a direct message – anonymity is one of the things I really think we need to overturn.

    LIS pros should start putting their names on things wherever possible, stop hiding their role away – leaving blogs looking anonymous and impersonal.

    Here’s some slide-text from a presentation I gave on ‘PR 2.0′, media relations etc a while back:

    * * *

    Librarians cannot afford to be…

    anonymous and generic. We need to state we’re pretty good more often. We want to be treated as professionals and far too many of us seem to hide under the cloak of anonymity. What other professionals won’t tell you their name right away. Would you find them and employ them if they had Web pages that described their services but didn’t show their names, specialties, work projects and pictures. Why do I see so many library website and intranet pages that display a wonderful range of services and so few images of the professionals behind the services. Why do so many librarians blog anonymously? How can we expect to raise our professionals profile if we don’t remove the cloak and shyness and head out into the big world of professional services.

    - Stephen Abram, Sirsi-Dynix, President of SLA

    * * *

    Most of the powerpoint wasn’t huge quotes, I promise… ;-)

    I guess the whole powerpoint, in a way, was about geting out of the echo-chamber.

    Take a look at it here (doesn’t include the notes, as it’s a PDF):

    Here were some of my notes, under that Abrams slide:

    * * *
    Stephen makes the point: “Anonymity just isn’t working for us”

    New report from OCLC – ‘From Awareness to Funding’ highlights that frequency of visits to library and awareness of the services is NOT determinant of support – but a “passionate librarian” is!

    Lesley Robinson (consultant): “We often fall into the trap of marketing our products and services rather than pushing ourselves to the fore” – must move from transactional marketing (products and services) to relationship marketing – focus on customer retention and long-term relationships.

    “Take risks – marketing is an extrovert business”!!!

    Lesley Robinson: “You have to be seen to be heard!”

    Terry Kendrick: “Be a human being (a service) not a can of beans (a product)”

    * * *

    I also had an idea at the end of my presentation:

    “Idea: set up a PR wiki for groups/branches/members: up to date media contacts list, strategy steps, SMPR template, how-tos, useful tools for SEO etc”

    I still think it could *really* help to have an LIS PR wiki – so we could all have the best tools for breaking out of the echo-chamber at our fingertips.

    (Subtext: no-one jumped at my suggestion – I think they were recovering from all the slides! Maybe there’s a wiki already doing this anyway… Perhaps that library best practice one is the best place for it all…? Perhaps we could piggy back on one done by actual PR pros?).

    A first step could be to strip the useful info out of my powerpoint and stick it in the wiki?

    Any thoughts?

    .. Are you called the wikiman, beacuse you make wikis?!? ;-)


    Matthew Mezey
    (News Editor, Library and Information Update magazine)

    PS I’ve just done a podcast for the first time – about CILIP’s ‘Big Conversation’; it’s an interview with CILIP President Biddy Fisher. Do take a look – and make a comment about it, if you have a moment :-)

  • Bobbi Newman January 22, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    @theanalogdivide have you seen this from@theREALwikiman? The Seth Godin Uber Echo Disaster! #echolib #godingate

  • Amy Rogers January 22, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    "Echo-chamber" (discussions that stay in enclosed rooms) & moving beyond it. via @librarianbyday @theRealwikiman

  • Matthew Mezey January 22, 2010 at 5:09 PM

    A PR best practice wiki for LIS pros + curse of anonymous librarians I talk about in a commnt on wikiman's blog: #CILIP

  • Emma Cragg January 22, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    Bookmarked: #echolib: The Seth Godin Uber-Echo Disaster

  • taxonomylady January 22, 2010 at 7:11 PM

    Great post! Although I often find that Seth has interesting things to say, it bothers me that he doesn’t have a blog.

    What I mean by this, is that without comments, it’s just a website. It’s a plain old 1999 website, with a couple of Web 2.0 bells and whistles.

    You’ve raised a great question about the echo-chamber. Solutions? Hmm . . . will need to think about this some more . . .

  • thewikiman January 25, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    Matthew I think you’re absolutely right – our annonimity is a problem. We do need to Market ourselves as a resource, rather than just the services we provide. Those slides /quotes were really intersting.

    We should DEFINITELY do the wiki idea! Up to date press contacts would prove invaluable for moving beyond the echo chamber. And yes I do set up wikis – that’s what Library Routes is afterall – but perhaps we should indeed look into the established resources first.
    I’ll have a think about this…

  • Matthew Mezey January 25, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Hi Ned,

    I guess the thing to do is to look up Meredith Farkas’ (US-centric?) Library Best practices wiki:

    See if that’s already providing all the promotional info that UK library pros might need – to break out of the echo-chamber!

    Or maybe it’s the obvious place to put it, rather than a new site.

    But – if there are a few people around the UK who are interested in a PR wiki – then it might be worth doing one here.

    Indeed, if you keep the word library out of the title, maybe it could even get non-library folks involved in making it better.

    Though it would be well worth checking with some PR/PR 2.0/Library 2.0 folks around the world over whether there is a good PR wiki out there already.

    What do the movers and shakers in CILIP’s Publicity and Public Relations Group (PPRG) think about the idea of a library focused PR wiki?

    Would they benefit? Will they help?

    Here are some of their people:

    Maybe they already have their own hidden wiki – as a PR secret weapon? ;-)

    We *really* don’t want to be reinventing the wheel with a (library) promotion wiki.

    CILIP itself has a campaigning toolkit here:

    I was told that the they were going to pull out some of the info from my PR 2.0/media relations etc presentation to the CILIP group CLSIG.

    But I’m not sure if any of my stuff ever got used.

    Anyway, I know I’d value a PR wiki that covered things like:
    - press release writing
    - PR 2.0 tricks
    - web usability
    - SEO skills
    - Social Media Press Release templates
    - contacts for influential LIS magazines, blogs etc, – lists of good Twitter #tags
    - tools to monitor online impact etc
    - good examples of Netvibes used as a public starter page, or internal (staff-only) page for monitoring online questions, problems reputation…
    - How to run split tests on e-mailed press release titles
    - Achieving ‘viral’ success

    et al…

    The key thing in all this is that there needs to be a bunch of people who are keen to work on this wiki project, who think it will help them in their work.

    And preferably at least one irrationally passionate person who will crash through any obstacles…

    Hopefully some PPRG people, some Twitter folks, some Library 2.0 fans might be interested. And – like I said – perhaps if the word ‘Library’ is kept out of the title, lots of PR professionals might even put the site together for us…?! ;-)


    Matthew Mezey
    (News Editor, Library and Information Update magazine)

    PS Just found this wiki:

    Does it do what we’d do? Or is it not quite right? (But could be a good source to borrow from, and to list the URL of).

    Update blog:

  • [...] #echolib – the Seth Godin Uber-Echo Disaster [...]

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    [...] The Seth Godin Uber Echo Disaster! – I know I blogged about the echo chamber earlier this week, but I hope you’re still thinking about it. [...]

  • mieke January 31, 2010 at 8:33 AM

    over #echolib –>

  • Nora Cascadden February 3, 2010 at 7:47 PM

    What should we do to fight the echo chamber as school libr's? the Seth Godin Uber-Echo Disaster @ #lis460

  • What do I do? « Digitalist June 17, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    [...] of how librarians are viewed from outside the profession. A topic which has been much discussed on blogs and Twitter but always within the echo chamber. I am prepared to admit that I am absolutely useless [...]

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  • Ned Potter July 22, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    Failure example A – Seth Godin uber echo disaster. Well documented. See for a summary #echolib

  • Judy Gressel July 22, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    @theREALwikiman Agree on echo chamber problem. Thanks for gnawing like a dog with a bone on the Seth Godin blog post.

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