Thursday, 5 March 2009

Institutions, authority, community and social media

A very interesting example from the library sector - the CEO of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) posted about twitter, and caused a minor outbreak of fury. A little while later he posted what I think is an honest reflection on and acknowledgement of the issues raised, and of the changes institutions face in the era of social media - 'social networking [is] changing the dynamic of institutionalised professionalism'. It's also a good demonstration of the idea that making mistakes in public doesn't mean the end of the world, and might even cause positive changes.

In a post titled, Yes, let's try that! the CEO responds to criticisms of his original post (below):
I went on to make an observation (that there's a widening gap between the culture of the institution and the culture of the network) and ask a question: How can we best combine the authority of our Institute and the democracy of our network?

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CILIP (like many organisations) is conflicted between authority and community – or (to put it in a way which chimes more with this discussion) between systems and conversations.

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So let me try to explain my thinking – and show why I think the discussion about using social media is also a discussion about the future for professionalism.

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We can't simply (as some comments have suggested) ignore the issue of authority. After all, we're a profession which prides itself on authenticating information as well as providing access to information – "authority control" is a skill we practice. And any profession worthy of the name has to have systems in place to authenticate and accredit professional practice. The problem (and that sense of frustration and irritation) arises when an organisation's systems and a community's conversations get out of kilter with each other – when the gap appears to widen between the organisation and the community, between the institute and the network, between "us" and "them".
For context, the original post, All of a twitter, that kicked off the debate started:
There's some twittering at present about whether CILIP has (or should have) any "official" presence on various lists or micro blog sites.

The simple answer, of course, is no. In terms of "official" activity, cyber life is just like real like - if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it's official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else's space, it isn't.


It's interesting seeing how the library sector is grappling with these issues, particularly in a week when the 'creative spaces' beta launch has caused such a stir.

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