Beyond Books and Bytes: The Role of Libraries in a Networked World
Presenter: Lee Rainie

Lee Rainie is the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. This organization does original research to determine how the Internet impacts people in their daily lives. His presentation was fast-moving and full of research findings about how information and communication are changing and the role that libraries can play in the digital age.

When Rainie first started this research in 1999, he was surprised to find that librarians were some of the most avid consumers of Internet content. Since that time, however, librarians have been identified as the #1 stakeholder in the work of the Project. His latest studies have found that with the advent of Web 2.0 (the “social” web), there has been a major shift in the social lives of Americans today that has big implications for libraries and they way that they serve their communities.

Rainie discussed 8 hallmarks of the Internet today:
1. Media and gadgets – Everyone uses media and has technology gadgets.  97% of computer users use the Internet. The web itself has become a storage device that allows people to access the information they want via whatever device they have access to.

2. Broadband access – More than ½ the population now have broadband Internet access at home. The web has become the central information center and the first place people go for answers to questions.

3. Wireless connectivity – allows access anywhere. This connectivity has changed the way we have to think about the digital divide and the importance of e-mail.

4. Content creation – Ordinary people are now publishers and creators of their own content. These new content creators post photos, create social networking profiles, blog (either on a blog site or on their social networking profile), create their own web sites and help others create sites, take other online content and use it to make something new (mashup), and create avatars, or online identities. 

5. Many different audiences – All of these new content creators have some sort of audience that uses video sharing sites, reads blogs, uses wiki sites for information, downloads podcasts, etc.

6. Sharing knowledge and feelings – People are using these new web tools to share what they know and what they feel. By doing this they are creating online conversations and communities. There are many services that allow users to rate people, products or services and communicate their feelings about them. Other users tag online content or make comments on videos, photos, blog posts.

7. Customization of the web – People are customizing their Internet experience with web 2.0 tools, e.g., iGoogle and myYahoo pages.  Others use RSS feeds to get the news/information they want.

8. Different people use technology in different ways. Rainie’s findings have identified three tiers of Internet users:

High tier users

  • OMNIVORES have the most info gadgets and participate voraciously in content creation
  • CONNECTORS are more into e-mail cell phones and the social networking aspect of the Internet
  • LACKLUSTER VETERANS are frequent internet users of the Internet, but don’t really love it
  • PRODUCTIVITY ENHANCERS are positive about technology and the way it helps them do their jobs

Middle tier users

  • MOBILE CENTRICS – embrace the cell phone and its capabilities; includes a high share of African-Americans and Latinos
  • CONNECTED BUT HASSLED - have a lot of technology but don’t like how it intrudes into their lives

Low tier users:

  • INEXPERIENCED EXPERIMENTERS – occasionally take advantage of online connectivity and can use it if they are shown how to do it
  • LIGHT BUT SATISFIED – use technology but it does not play a central role in their lives. These are the people you have to call and say “Did you get my e-mail?”
  • INDIFFERENTS – have some technology, but don’t like it
  • OFF THE NETWORK – do not have cell phones or use the Internet at all. These people tend to be older or without the resources to buy technology

All this connectivity changes our relationship to information and to each other. We are living life in a “continuous state of partial attention.” The validating of information becomes more social.

Libraries need to plug into people’s social networks as a source of information. People perceive the Internet as a “node” on their social network to fill in gaps when friends can’t help them solve a problem.  Libraries should be one of the sources that they can turn to easily.

Libraries should also help teach new literacies. Rainie ended his presentation with a reference to a post by Pam Berger in her InfoSearcher blog. In her post, Pam identifies the new literacies required by the digital age:

graphic literacy – the language of the screen

navigation literacy – the transition to nonlinear formats

context literacy – the importance of seeing connections

focus – the value of reflection

skepticism – the capacity to evaluate

ethical behavior – the will to be responsible

Overall, an excellent presentation that was worth getting up for the 8:00 start time! ;-)