Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is there anybody out there? (Is there anybody in there?)

Did you ever produce a bibliography for your library patrons that you copied 50 times and put out on the desk and then saw every copy disappear in an afternoon?

And you thought, "Wow, what a useful application of my time and skills. I just knew everyone would want a pathfinder on '20th Century Small Town Mayors who tried to Ban Library Books.'"

And then I arrive and tell you that people are taking your bibliography sheets because you left the reverse side blank and they just want scrap paper to write on. And then we argue. And you pull my hair plugs. And I jab your fresh liposuction bruise.

So to test my theory, you print your bibliography on both sides of the paper. And none get taken. Okay, maybe two.

But the point is, if you enforce the intended purpose of something, it greatly reduces its use.

Go back to the Bible for additional proof. When Moses returned from the mountain with the two tablets, he put them down for a minute because they were heavy. And after enjoying a refreshing Mountain Dew, when he turned back to retrieve them, he found Akham scratching something into the back of one of the tablets. Moses struck him about the head with the emptied Mountain Dew bottle until Akham ran far away to foreign land. Moses then saw that Akham had written across the back of one of the tablets, "Unless it's your mother-in-law."

Moses was angered and destroyed the tablets. He made a mental note to have God write his message on both sides next time. But he admitted later that he wished he knew for which Commandment the mother-in-law comment was meant because it could have been appled to so many. And then he made a joke about it which he repeated often at the dinner table until everyone knew it by heart.

So that's what I wonder about enabling comments on blogs. Have you been to some of these library blogs (I won't even mention really popular blogs where this is a major problem, but just simple library blogs) where there are dozens or even a hundred comments that have nothing to with the original post or even a broad interpretation of the original post?

Do you care?

I've gotten to where I can't even read the posts. I'd like to call it a drunken circle-jerk, but that seems harsh. I don't think these posters have been drinking.

I often wonder about the social part of the Internet. What kind of people did I expect to meet when I joined the blogging world?

And then you have to wonder about if and how to moderate content on your blog. LISNews had some discussion whether to allow anonymous posts and comments. Many bloggers use "captchas" to reduce auto-generated spam. But what about human-generated spam? And what about simple bullshit comments?

How easy or difficult should you make it for someone to post a comment? If you create so many hoops for contributors to jump through, do most people just stop trying? Except for the truly crazy people?

I see this as the online version of our brick and mortar social network, the library. We want everyone to feel welcome, the hockey moms, the old and disillusioned, the hip and vacant, the lost and forgotten, the regular folks.

What rules do we enforce in the library to keep some people from making it so awful that others don't return?

So when I visit these blogs where the inmates seem to be running the asylum, I look around my library, I think, "Is this any way to run a ballroom?" (read full, very offensive bit here)