I’m a little over halfway through Here Comes Everybody, and I’m reading with a box of Page Points by my side (of course, the book is a library copy – I’ll have to buy my own so I can leave my markers in place and go back to them later). I’m up to the 7th chapter now, but so far Chapter 3 is the one with the most passages marked. Shirky discusses the effect of the internet on more traditional media and the mass amateurization of tasks that used to be the purview of professionals. He gets right to the heart of some of the things we’ve been discussing in the library world, and particularly just this past week at Eureka. Here are just a few choice tidbits:

For people with a professional outlook, it’s hard to understand how something that isn’t professionally produced could affect them….Most professions exist because there is a scare resource that requires ongoing management…a professional learns things in a way that differentiates her from most of the populace, and she pays as much or more attention to the judgment of her peers as to the judgment of her customers when figuring out how to do her job….Sometimes, thought, the professional outlook can become a disadvantage, preventing the very people who have the most at stake – the professionals themselves – from understanding major changes to the structure of their profession….It is easier to understand that you face competition than obsolescence. In any profession, particularly one that has existed long enough that no one can remember a time when it didn’t exist, members have a tendency to equate provisional solutions to particular problems with deep truths about the world. This is true of newspapers today and of the media generally….A professional often becomes a gatekeeper…Professional self-conception and self-defense, so valuable in ordinary times, become a disadvantage in revolutionary ones, because professionals are always concerned with threats to the profession. In most cases, those threats are also threats to society; we don not want to see a relaxing of standards for becoming a surgeon or a pilot. But in some cases the change that threatens the the profession benefits society, as did the spread of the printing press; even in these situations the professionals can be relied on to care more about self-defense than about progress. What was once a service has become a bottleneck.

This chapter really made me squirm. I don’t agree with everything Shirky says (and he does mention libraries as well as the media), but I think he brings some valuable insights to the discussion. I don’t believe that libraries and librarians are obsolete, but I certainly think we could become so if we focused on the wrong things. Anyway, this book is challenging me in a lot of ways, AND it’s really interesting. Read it, think about it, talk about it. I’m curious to hear what others have to say.

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