Turf Wars: Stepping on toes in Libraryland

I always like to joke about the number of committees I sit on. Librarians love to complain about the number of meetings we attend, and of course meetings are just the time consuming playthings of committees. (I suppose teleconferences/webinars are the time consuming playthings of groups that meet at a distance.)

Maybe this is old hat to most of you, but I had a realization about all of these committees last week at SLA 2010… they set up turf wars. There’s a couple ways I’ve seen this manifest – either it’s the same people in variations of the same committee, each with a slightly different scopes and missions, or it’s different people in different groups trying to assert themselves in same area, vying for supremacy of a narrow strip of libraryland. Turf wars are the logical extension. A very wise librarian, in the middle of a committee meeting that was trying to distinguish itself from another committee meeting, said that the problem was, “[we’re] stepping on each other’s toes, and somebody’s going to get hurt.” They’re right though I think the hurt and pain is sort of what keeps us in check.

Someday, when I finally make sense of the tangled mass of committees that feed upon transportation librarians, I will go into gory details, but for now I’ll just stick in vague generalities.

The funny thing about libraryland turf wars is that the stakes are usually fairly low. Occasionally, the committees are working on something big that matters, that will have a legacy that will actually leave an impact, but overall I think it’s all pretty incremental and low. That’s not to say things don’t matter, but the perspective is off. I am often guilty of drawing my personal lines in the sand in preparation of some sort of battle, but upon reflection I realize that not getting my way is not the end of the world. (Though this also plays into my personal belief that you have to be the change you want, or “put up or shut up.”)

Maybe I just need a better separation of work/life?

Transportation Knowledge Network? What’s that?

Last week was National Library Week. I didn’t really celebrate. (Oddly enough, I’ve never really ever noticed anything like that on campus in my decade here. Dang… I sound old.)

Andrew Krzmarzick, the Director of Community Engagement at GovLoop, started a discussion about National Transportation Knowledge Networks. It almost made me weep with joy for a variety of reasons, mainly – I was chuffed to see somebody out of the usual suspects talking about it.

Some background:
The concept of knowledge networks is relatively new, but basically it is about the community working together, sharing resources and ideas, to foster innovation and communication. Libraries very much have a role in this model, and in transportation kicked the whole thing off. It started with the Midwest Transportation Knowledge Network (MTKN), which was a pilot for the TKN concept. Now we also have ETKN and WTKN. (I’m currently chair of WTKN.) As soon as the new transportation authorization comes through congress, hopefully they will fund the National Transportation Knowledge Network, which is sort of happening at TransportationResearch.gov, but of course it’s hard to do much with almost no resources.

The reason the GovLoop post almost made me weep is that I get excited and happy anytime non-librarians talk about the TKN idea. TKNs may have started with libraries because librarians are exceptionally good at networking and resource sharing, but I firmly believe it’s time for us to get other people to join the network. It’s a narrow definition of knowledge to say that it has to be stuff that could pass through the libraries’ domain. What about gray literature? The transportation community should not necessarily wait for ideas and work to be published or somehow officially deigned useful to share. Constant collaboration will not only improve research but also practices in the field.

I really see libraries acting as a hub to facilitate this communication and knowledge sharing, but it’s hard to get that message across. Many of the people I’ve talked to about it immediately jump to what I call the “reports conclusion.” That is to say, they assume “knowledge” comes in the form of a final report or something at the completion of a project. Knowledge doesn’t only manifest itself when a project manager or editor deems it though, it’s a continual spectrum. This is a great opportunity for libraries to get involved with the process and not wait for the end product and is not just limited to transportation. Of course then we enter into the resource problem. We’re all being asked to do more with less. How are transportation libraries supposed to help with the growth of TKNs if we can’t even perform our own basic functions? It’s hard and takes some sacrifice, but hopefully it will one day pay off. I’m actually optimistic.

State DOTs and Social Networking

This post might be very boring to the library folks, but this is what I do. I’m a transportation librarian, so I think about transportation stuff. One thing that I’m interested in is how transportation agencies use social networking to share information. This is why I started MashTrans, because it was clear that people were interested but didn’t really know where to begin. It is one of those areas where there’s no right way, but there’s plenty of ways to get it wrong.

This week AASHTO, or the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (we love our acronyms in transportation), joined the hordes on Twitter with @aashtospeaks. They’ve only tweeted twice so far, but one was a link to results of a survey about Twitter and Facebook with state DOTs. They found 32 agencies have presences on Twitter and 24 are on Facebook. That’s not too shabby for 51 agencies of varying populations and resources.

I had been working on something similar but instead of a survey I chose the brute force method: I just went to each agency’s website and then searched around, also using Google, to find if they were on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and Youtube. I also looked to see which agencies had RSS feeds available for the public. It was at times frustrating, but here it is in all its glory. At first I thought, well, AASHTO beat me to the punch, but then I looked at their results and compared them to mine. It’s not the same thing. Here’s why:

  1. AASHTO used a survey to get their results, I sought them out myself. Their results depend on people responding to the survey (which is never a sure thing), while I looked for what was publicly available (and relatively easy to find).
  2. I looked at services besides Facebook and Twitter. Honestly, I love Facebook and I love Twitter, but they aren’t always the best tool. Flick and YouTube have great applications for transportation information, just look at Washington State DOT’s Flickr. Lovely stuff. When I was at the TRB meeting last month, it was clear that people had gotten the message that people are on Twitter and Facebook, but it was also clear that most people didn’t know what transportation agencies should actually do there besides have a presence. That’s not really going to cut it.
  3. I also looked for RSS feeds. I wish I could say I was surprised at how few agencies actually offer them, but I’m not. True, many people don’t understand what RSS means, but in the age of database driven CMS websites, they are pretty easy to offer and can really help push your agency’s message out to places like Twitter and Facebook with minimal effort. More people need to be doing this.

So I need to figure out why my next steps will be with this information. I’ll be looking at MPOs next and then transit agencies. Who knows what I’ll find.