Part I: The New Nomadism

As promised, commentary on part one of Andreas Kluth’s special report on mobility.

Once upon a time, states Kluth, people needed lots of stuff to communicate. Since most of this stuff had to be plugged in to a power source for it to work properly, that meant people also needed spaces for their stuff. For a little while, it also meant that when people traveled, they had to take all kinds of stuff with them, in order to stay connected. Nowadays, that’s not so much true. Inexpensive, lightweight, portable devices, and the wi-fi networks that sustain them, have evolved to the point where we, as a culture, are forced to re-think our concepts of space, place, and connectivity. Scholars in various discipoines are studying the technological use and social behaviors of the “new nomads” to see what the implications are for cultural institutions and organizations.

Somewhat random thoughts:
Kluth begins with a quick overview of theories of nomadism, then contrasts these paradigms with the way events have actually played out:

Urban nomads have started appearing only in the past few years. Like their antecedents in the desert, they are defined not by what they carry but by what they leave behind, knowing that the environment will provide it.

In other words, people expect that, wherever they go, their environments will have already have all the tools and circumstances they need to stay connected. Is this true of libraries? More to the point, is it true of OUR library?

I think it is, for the most part.  As Kluth gets more specific in subsequent parts of the report, I will mention specific wild and crazy ideas I got while reading the articles.  For now, though, let me just say this:

cell phone lounge.

I know.  I could feel you shudder.  It sounds so…non-library.

But consider this:  if cell phone use has permeated the culture–and it has, to the point where the person talking to him/herself on the bus might not be crazy, just Bluetoothed–then organizations need to adapt to reflect the culture.

Note that I did not say “toss out the baby with the bathwater.”  There will always be a need for quiet, restricted places, where people can study and read in peace, especially as the world gets noisier and more connected.  But the best way to preserve those quiet, almost sacred, spaces is, in this librarian’s opnion, to make room for the changes.  To honor and respect them.

Hence, the cell phone lounge.  Picture it:  One room, in Main, soundproofed if possible, where you are welcome to take your calls and be as noisy as you like.  Put in a new carpet, some comfy, cunning tables that look like miniature restaurant booths (catalog available on request), and let them have food.  Wi-fi access is, of course, already present building-wide.

This lounge accomplishes two things:

  1. Acknowledges that cell phones have permeated the culture and meets patron expectations for new nomadic spaces.
  2. Gives the library more control over how those nomadic spaces are governed.

Our current cell phone policy asks users to take their calls in the hallway.  While this is respectful to patrons who desire quiet, it’s kind of like asking your adult relatives to sit at the kids’ table for Thanksgiving dinner.  Why not create a situation that’s win-win, as opposed to “some people win, some people lose?”  It’s also beneficial for staff in that security guards–and reference librarians–will be able to enforce policies more easily when there’s a designated space that’s just as nice as the spaces everybody else gets to use. If somebody’s using a cell phone anywhere other than the lounge, we can point to the lounge and say, “We respected your needs. Please respect ours.”

Thoughts? To be fair, I did start out with an esoteric, atmospheric example, as opposed to a concrete need (like CD R/W drives, but don’t get me started!). Still, I think I’m on to something here…

In an amusing twist of irony, I will now be taking a blogging break for a few days–or will I?–to enjoy a well-earned vacation. Given that we will eventually be discussing Kluth’s take on the blurring of boundaries between work and home, thanks to connectivity, I reserve the right to chuckle. So, stay tuned!

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  1. amy said,

    April 22, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    until you can show me how we can have cd burners in a library with 30,000 music cds and 6,000 books on cd and not have a spectacular copyright infringement problem, i will fight and fight against them. plus, ye gods, the extra tech support we will be forced to do!

  2. April 23, 2008 at 8:12 am

    [...] bei Library Alchemy: Part I:The New Nomadism. Eigentlich könnte man auch einfach in der Bibliothekscafeteria, die hoffentlich ohnehin schon [...]

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