As the #echolib debate goes on, I have a confession to make. When I first appropriated the phrase echo-chamber to try and kick off this whole discussion, I was quite selective in how I interpreted it… So the part of the Wikipedia definition which describes the echo-chamber as ‘…any situation in which information, ideas or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission inside an enclosed” space’ – that suits my purposes perfectly. But the bit about ‘…like-minded people then repeat, overhear, and repeat again (often in an exaggerated or otherwise distorted form) until most people assume that some extreme variation of the story is true’ – that bit I didn’t really apply to our situation in the library community. I don’t mean to suggest that we’re kidding ourselves about stuff, and that by only listening to similarly minded peers we’re blind (or rather deaf) to dissonant voices. I should have made that clear earlier, and Andy’s post – Dismantling the echo-chamber – on his Agnostic, Maybe blog has brought home the need for clarification. I wrote a veeeery long comment in response to the Andy’s post – it was so long, I decided to release it as a blog post all of its own, so here it is.
Perhaps a better analogy for my particular take on the echo-chamber would be the library blogging community on one side of a mirror, firing all sorts of brilliant and important ideas towards the mirror. For the most part, the ideas bounce back into the same group of already-forward-thinking people – whereas those on the other side of the mirror (ie the wider library community, and the people who are entirely indifferent to us and what we do) are only receiving the very small percentage of ideas that get ‘through’ the mirror.
So an ASCII representation might look like this, where > is an idea, and | is the mirror:
[like-minded library bloggers] >>>>>>>><<<< | > > > [everyone else]
Hmmm… Anyway, point is: many more ideas are fired at the mirror and bounce back, than get through. Like the dam picture at the top – there’s a hell of a lot more water contained the other side of the dam than is escaping through the pipe.
I love that Andy follows blogs he doesn’t agree with (see his original post), that’s a truly reflective practitioner! He’s absolutely right, it is good to know what detractors are thinking, and it does help focus your potential responses and defences. I find that just by virtue of choosing a 2.0ish medium of communication, many library bloggers seem to be people who think along similar lines to me, and vice versa, anyway. Not on a detail level, but a meta-level. I’d be interested in who anyone else’s ‘team of rivals’ is. But it’s a great principle, and I will try and adopt it.
Incidentally, about this whole thing, I think there’s a curve of interest in libraries which corresponds to how and where we should devote our energies. So on the far left there’s the actively hostile – it isn’t worth trying to ‘convert’ them or otherwise try and force people into libraries who have no need for the services we provide. (But we should defend ourselves with well-honed arguments if they publicly attack…) Then at the other end on the right there’s the library super-fans – we should be harnessing their advocacy, but not putting too much effort into telling them how wonderful we are, because they already know. Then there’s the people in the middle – currently indifferent, but if they knew what we could really do for them in 2010, their informed opinion might be that we are a resource they should utilise. Those are the people who are beyond the echo-chamber, and who we should be trying to reach.