Google 2.0 as a Teaching Tool

One of the best ways to encourage people to try new things is to show how they benefit and how easy it can be. Librarians should be persuaded by the argument that a particular change will benefit library users, but some aren’t, and to be fair, it’s not always clear the latest new tech fashion really will benefit anyone in the library but the people who enjoy playing around with new gadgets.

But just considering changes in information technology and social software, I’ve lately been trying to make the case that learning new tools isn’t just fun (since for many people it isn’t) or a good way to communicate with students (sometimes yes, sometimes no), but that it also brings some personal benefits. What personal benefits can it bring?

(On a side note, as I’ve been working on this post, I’ve run across two interesting blog posts that try to provide reasons for librarians to learn about some of these new tools: David Lee King’s follow up post on Basic Competencies of a 2.0 Librarian and 20 reasons why learning emerging technologies is part of every librarian’s job at Librarians Matter. Both of these posts present good reasons to learn new technologies and show how such learning is relevant to contemporary librarianship.)

I’ve been focusing on ways the technology can immediately benefit librarians by helping them personalize and organize their own information environment, and I’ve been doing this specifically through Google, because in their drive to take over the world, Google has made it easier for people to come to many of these new tools through a one-stop shopping exercise.

Recently, I’ve been giving some talks through a New Jersey library cooperative called Infolink, and also working closely with a couple of colleagues teaching what I call Google 2.0. Focusing on Google is a good way to introduce people to a wide array of tools at one time. (By the way, I’m giving a hands-on Infolink workshop at some New Jersey public library sometime in August. That’s about as specific as my self-promotion can be right now. If you get the opportunity, sign up. I’m entertaining and informative, and I bet that’s more than you can say about your last few library presentations.)

For example, lately I’ve sat down for long sessions with two colleagues who wanted to know more about all of this 2.0 stuff. By the end of my last two-hour session, the colleague I worked with had accounts for Google email, Talk, Bookmarks, Calender, Groups, Docs & Spreadsheets, Reader, and Page Creator, as well as a Blogger account and new professional blog. Orkut seemed a waste of time, especially since he already had a Facebook profile. Whenever Google gets around to merging completely with Jotspot, I’ll even be able to add wikis.

The Google-phobic librarian might ask, why Google? Google isn’t the only place, or even necessarily the best place, to get all this stuff! The answer should be obvious. Google has a great search engine, and they are putting together in one place a lot of useful tools. My goal isn’t to be a shill for Google (though if they want to give me a lot of money, I’ll be happy to shill for them); my goal is to introduce librarians to new information technologies as easily as possible.

By the end of the sessions, my colleagues also had the tool I think is essential for making this as easy as it can be — the iGoogle page, with all of its movable gadgets. We loaded up their iGoogle page with the Gmail, Gtalk, Bookmarks, Calendar, and Reader gadgets, plus some other things. We loaded the Reader with a few blogs and feeds relevant to their work. We loaded the Bookmarks with some useful websites. I showed them how to easily add items to the Reader and the Bookmarks. And it’s all right there on one web page once they log in. They don’t have to move from page to page or go out and find the information. Now information comes to them. They don’t have to remember. It’s just there, and my assumption is if it’s there they’ll use it.

And what was my rationale for encouraging them to do this? Because they’ll have fun? Absolutely not. Because they’ll recapture their youth and be “relevant” to the teenagers coming into the library? Of course not. Because they’re inferior if they’re not up on the latest trends? Considering they are among the colleagues I respect the most, certainly not. (I have to say that, because if all went well, they’re reading this on their feed readers right now.)

My rationale was that these tools could save them time and effort, and allow them to replicate a common information environment wherever they log in. With these tools, they can get information relevant to them and share information in many formats more quickly and efficiently than they could before. The tools make their life easier and help them in some way. If they see further applications for them, or if the knowledge allows them to know more about current trends, that’s just an added benefit. What sells a lot of us on emerging technologies is not that we want to be relevant or “hip” or something, but that we see benefits in the technologies that others might not see, and we see those benefits because we have incorporated the technologies into our lives to a greater or lesser extent and lived with them for a while. Most people are already comfortable living with Google as a search engine, so the transition is made easier.

Sure, I’m ignoring all the competing services by concentrating specifically on Google. I’m not talking much about other feed readers or social bookmarking applications like that would let people share their bookmarks. For the most part, I’m even ignoring the broader concepts behind this technology. (I’m certainly not trying to define what Web or Library 2.0 means.) But at the end of a couple of hours, someone receiving this training knows more about the possibilities of social bookmarking, online group working environments, blogging, RSS, and other tools than they would before. They are able to use a lot of social software in practice and see its benefits for them. The theory can come later.