Ruminating on what it will mean to manage a library catalog that is capable of representing, capturing, & supporting the aliveness of the network of nodes at work within it, I keep getting stuck on the importance of trust in a functional community of sharers. Trust is key. Trust is the holy grail for a group of people to cooperate, collaborate, converse successfully with one another. Everyone trying to build productive communities online can hardly talk about anything but trust or reputation management/development. Conveying our credibility to relative strangers has become serious business.
It seems so obvious that people who share resources, through the process of sharing over time, learn to trust each other, making sharing more and more easy as time goes on, which allows for growth and innovation of how and what they share together. Coworking communities who begin by sharing desks wind up sharing their networks and creating opportunities for and with each other. The people who bring their dogs to the same field that I take my dog to for play & exercise have come to share cars, tools, dinners, advice, ideas, dog care, etc. Cohousing, Skillsharing, collaborative consumption models of all kinds are taking off. Libraries could emerge as keystone species in such an ecology, or as unecessary, considering self-organized groups could be out-librarying the library.
Does the library’s way of sharing build trust among borrowers, among the community? My first thought is that it is has built a system that intentionally bypasses any need for trust among members–that’s its big feature. The system builds trust in/of the institution, even at the cost of promoting suspicion of other borrowers. Library members trust the library to catch the cheaters, and the library staff and system commit to attending to the cheaters–the people who keep stuff too long, or damage materials, etc. (This may be analogous to the deficit model of libraries Dave Lankes has begun talking about, where no one can do anything extra good for the system, they can only maintain status or do something bad.)
I wonder if this could be otherwise, if the catalog’s biggest feature might be a bug. This way of operating seems to skew our perception of the public. Library employees can grow hostile and suspicious toward their members. But the cheaters are outliers (and really I hate to even call them cheaters because so much of what they do wrong is pretty innocent/understandable, which means it ought not to require punishment/forgiveness); the vast majority of borrowers comply with the system. The vast majority of people carrying out activities afforded by the system are trustworthy, but that trustworthiness is almost invisible. We all have hopefully accepted that circulation stats on their own are mostly stupid and meaningless, but could they be contextualized to become some kind of trust quotient–a way to showcase how often things go right and how everyone shows so much good, responsible behavior? Could we design our system to make trustworthiness visible? Read the rest of this entry →