In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a seaman who has just returned from a long voyage recounts a scene in which there was "Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink." The same might be said of today's online environment--people communicating constantly, but not building a sense of community.
That's one of the key messages of the four theme articles in the October/November issue of Information Outlook, which is now posted on sla.org. The theme, "Working across Geographical Borders," practically invites discussions about how technology has rendered many national, cultural and language differences obsolete. But as Sean Smith of QUOSA writes in his article about the challenges facing global information vendors, "There is at least one drawback to using technology--it facilitates communication, but not necessarily connection."
Margaret Ostrander, manager of search at Thomson Reuters, takes a slightly different angle in her article about conducting user testing with clients in dispersed locations. "More than anything else," she writes, "a human connection is needed within a meeting. Absent the aid of Webcams or other videoconferencing technologies, simply having a picture of the person's face can help humanize a colleague who otherwise is a disembodied voice on the other end of a teleconference."
So, what can librarians do to build community in an increasingly wired world? Stephen Abram offers some suggestions in his "Info Tech" column. One, he says, is to give a gift.
"When working in different cultures or when attempting to gain introduction, trust, or entree, give a gift," he writes. "I'm not talking about a presentation piece of lovely Inuit sculpture--the gift should be appropriate and generous. Good answers, advice and information are gifts."
To read more about how librarians can work across geographical borders, read the October/November issue of Information Outlook.