Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Public Libraries Re-considered -- Notes on a talk by John Seely Brown

This post also has had a long gestational period. Way back on June 5, I attended a talk at the Westport Public Library given by John Seely Brown. Mr. Brown was the Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the Director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). He was deeply involved in the management of radical innovation and in the formation of corporate strategy and strategic positioning of Xerox as The Document Company. Today he calls himself Chief of Confusion, helping people ask the right questions. There is some great stuff on his web site.

He was talking about the role of the public library in this new century.

Here are some of my notes in a sketchy outline:

  • The world is not flatter, it is spikier
  • There is a social life of information

Andrew Carnegie's goal was to open free public libraries. To get a library grant, the community needed to provide a site and to commit to operating funds. From 1895 - 1923, there were 1,681 public libraries opened.

  • The community library is a safe social space for informal learning.
  • Learning is social, our understanding (not knowledge) is social.

We need to re-conceive the library. We need to focus on the play of imagination, and we need to help be a guide.

What constitutes meaning for kids born digital?

  • Building, tinkering, and sharing
  • Blurring of social life with academic life
  • Re-mix culture = Open Source Blogs
  • Rise of pro amateur class; niche passions

The importance of game playing:

  • Pattern recognition & sense working
  • Continuous decision making
  • Conquering immense complexity
  • Immediate feedback
  • Joy from mastery of skills
  • Bottom line: scores matter

John spent some time talking about the World of Warcraft which is a MMOG (Massive Multiplayer Online Game).

  • Guild-master: leadership skills = management skills
  • Lessons from virtual worlds are powerful tools
  • Collateral worlds; not analogies -- metaphors

  • Commercial world moving from supply/push to download/pull
  • Education is currently based on the factory model.
  • Long tail: 50% of Amazon income is from the long tail (i.e. niche markets)
  • A new learning model: Libraries as places for learning-to-be by making and tinkering with stuff; coupled to "guided" productive inquiry

  • Schools need to develop a core curriculum, teach critical thinking skills, and provide certification
  • Computer world worships search, misses serendipity; the library represents serendipity
  • Games can be addictive

Finally, here is my huge take-away message, and the "aha" moment I experienced:

Old value: Identity is what I own

New value: Identity is what I create and share

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