Too Many Chefs in the Kitchen

Karen wrote this post yesterday which touches on something that has been stewing in my brain since last week. I decided it was time to stop tasting the soup and just serve it up. (Can you tell I am going to be using food as metaphor?)

Disclaimer #1 – I am a participating member of ALA
Disclaimer #2 – I am participating in the ALA Library 2.0 Bootcamp
Disclaimer #3 – This in no way represents the opinions of Jenny Levine or Michael Stephens. This is from my own observations as a participant.
Disclaimer #4 – I already think ALA wastes my dues

You are, dear reader, an intelligent human being, so you have probably guessed I am going to talk about ALA, money, and how ALA seems to take something that should be simple and cheap and turn it into a fiasco or at least the semblance of one.

Let me tell you a story.

One fine day in Chicago, some ALA muckity mucks realized that Web 2.0 exists. They decide they need to get in on the action and they look around for a couple members that have been talking about Library 2.0 until they are blue in the face. Enter in our two chefs, Jenny Levine and Michael Stephens.

Jenny and Michael are leaders in the Library 2.0 landscape so ALA asks them if they would create a class, using Web 2.0 technologies to teach a handful of key ALA members about library 2.0. They agree and there is much rejoicing.

This is the point in the story where ALA does the thing it does best, royally *%&$ things up. ALA wants to make spaghetti. It is cheap, easy, and can feed a crowd, but they do not take the time to look around and realize that anyone can make spaghetti. ALA thinks that all good things come from companies and big dysfunctional organizations, so they contract a company to create a recipe for spaghetti. ALA does not understand that it could have relied on its two chefs, Jenny and Michael, to make spaghetti on their own and thus pay an outrageous sum of money for a recipe for spaghetti which should have been, essentially, free.

The chefs, being good sports and wanting to further the cause, go with the recipe, though it is faulty. As you can imagine, there are many bumps along the way and, while the pot of spaghetti does come out resembling the pasta we love, it is not quite right. Some thing is off, but ALA pretends that all is well. How could anything be wrong? They paid an outrageous sum of money for the spaghetti so it must be good. Pass the salt.


ALA took a great idea, teaching some of its members about Library 2.0 and made it difficult. Everything we are doing could have been done with open source software, which means free minus hosting fees. Jenny and Michael could have set things up without the constraints of the Otter Group, which other people have pointed out, have us using software that is not that user friendly, does not validate, and creates podcasts without built in RSS making them plain old audio posts. The blog platform we are using, Blogware, is terrible and has an admin panel that drives me crazy. Blogware does not even have the option for alt tags to links and I spent a long time trying to figure out the way it handles pictures yesterday. I am not a newbie to the technology, so i can only imagine the hair pulling that is going on with members to whom all this stuff is shiny new. The feed reader we are using is not the best I have seen and must be downloaded to the desktop so it can not move with you which makes it impossible to access anywhere else but my office. I wish that we were using more of the open source tools that the people in the program might actually use in real life or programs many libraries are already using like Word Press, Moveable Type, Rojo, Bloglines, a podcatcher other than iTunes, etc.

Will Bootcamp be successful? Yes, to a point. It just frustrates me that ALA has this innate ability to squander my money and my time. Why is it so very hard for them to just make a pot of spaghetti with little or no fuss? Why?

–Jane, grabs a jar of Ragu

15 thoughts on “Too Many Chefs in the Kitchen

  • May 17, 2006 at 11:14 am

    I have some faith (not a lot) that you guys will succeed in spite of ALA. It seems that ALA mucking up what should be simple is business as usual for them. And yes, I can make the disclaimer as well that I am a member, and I think they waste my dues too. In a way, makes me glad I was not one of the “key members” for the bootcamp. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it is given that between you, Karen, and few others, it seems there is “trouble in paradise.” Hang in there.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  • May 17, 2006 at 7:46 pm

    Reading this and many other posts makes me wonder why the ALA just didn’t hire Stephens and Levine to run the program themselves. Both are supremely qualified to teach, create course blogs, handle podcasts, etc… Why was Otter paid to sit in the middle when there is no need for that inefficient and antiquated middle level anyway?? As others have said, this is teaching 2.0 issues in a 1.0 classroom.

  • May 18, 2006 at 4:19 am

    I would like to go on the record here about the role we play in this project and how this effort is much bigger than simply assembling a set of technologies:

    The technology part is easy. People may not like all of our choices but they were made for very specific reasons: Blogware because we can create customized blog types and very quickly set them up; iTunes because we have a back end hosting system with Audioblog that is simple and works, because the interface is ubiquitious and free and because we believe that using iTunes opens up the biggest possible exposure to the ideas presented here, and BlogBridge because it is the only reader I know of that handles dynamic reading lists. We set ourselves up to support these three technologies FOR THE BOOT CAMP. No one is being asked to commit to anything beyond this pilot and when you all have to make choices about scaling, you can go through the excercise of looking at the various trade-offs, which we have carefully done in evaluating our choices. You cannot economically support everything and even free open source options often have greater costs associated with installation and support than proprietary ones.

    The hard part of this program (and where the value lies) is in the process. It is in getting people to re-think how they do things and to use their “immersion” in the new tools (imperfect as they may be) to help them figure out how to work differently (and think different). This is where we see our value—in structuring the process, managing it, and leading people through it. Based on what I am seeing in the project drafts, aat the process level, things are going very well. In the end, the measureable value here will lie in what comes out of the projects and what kinds of new models—conceptual, technological, cultural, and process—that people take away from this program. That is not trivial and that is what we are doing here.

    The larger lesson here is that if you think you can just throw together a few pieces of technology and get things to work differently you are deluding yourselves. It takes hard work to make the process and cultural changes that are at the heart of library 2.0.

  • May 18, 2006 at 8:01 am

    I’m not quite understanding some of the points made in the previous comment. Perhaps there could be some clarification?

    First, I see no acknowledgment of a crucial criticism: several of the technologies chosen (no matter the rationale employed to choose them) did not work as expected, or worked more poorly than expected. “Scalability” is not sufficient grounds to accept malfunction. Was there any user testing before going live? If there was, who tested the software? Jenny and Michael? Prospective students?

    Second, I believe other software packages could have performed some of the functions cited as influencing the decision. I’m not clear on what’s meant by “customized blog types,” but WordPress is endlessly customizable (and exists in two multi-user implementations, WP-MU and ibiblio’s Lyceum), and so is Drupal. Perhaps more information on the software examined and the yardsticks employed would be helpful?

    I’m not quite sure what a “dynamic reading list” is either. Could you please clarify?

    (I do think iTunes was an easily defensible choice, and as best I can tell iTunes didn’t cause the RSS problem that turned “podcasts” into plain old audio.)

    Third, I don’t understand why “scalability” is even an issue, if the technologies were assembled solely for the BootCamp. I would think far more useful perspectives would include sticking close to tools that BootCampers are likely to see in libraries, and demonstrating a variety of software and service choices. The extra effort (if any; I remain unconvinced that there is any) involved in setting them up and supporting them is an object lesson for the BootCampers!

    Fourth, Jane’s point that Michael and Jenny could have managed their own software installations (and been more comfortable with the result; learning-curve costs should never be minimized as a technology expense) for vastly less out-of-ALA’s-pocket money has not been addressed. How did cost figure into technology and vendor choice for BootCamp?

    Because I am not involved, even peripherally, I can go ahead and say that the behind-the-scenes buzz I am hearing suggests that ALA is not a favored partner for further training sessions of this nature. I think that’s a pity — surely training is part of ALA’s mission! — and I hope that ALA will learn from this experience in order to do better in future.

    We’re none of us perfect, but we can all improve.

  • May 18, 2006 at 10:30 am

    “The larger lesson here is that if you think you can just throw together a few pieces of technology and get things to work differently you are deluding yourselves.”

    Hmmm… sounds like a challenge… Michelle, I think you and Dorothea and I should just try and prove her wrong next year…. offer our own online educational extravaganza. 🙂

    I agree with everything you and Dorothea wrote. I’ve been reading the blog posts you’ve all been writing and see some failures on multiple levels here. And I see very little responsibility being taken for the failures… just excuses and defensiveness. OMG, how great would Drupal have been for something like this? Or WordPress for multiple users? It would make sense to use technologies that these people might actually use after this. Who is going to use Blogware at their library?

    But I think it’s not just about the technology. I think the course itself should have had clear learning objectives because a lot of people are not getting what they’d expected from it. I’m obviously not in the class, so I don’t have as much insight as you do, but from my view, the class seems overly structured with assignments and assigned readings so it doesn’t allow people to really explore their own personal interests. I’m still thinking about how I would (and may in the future) do things differently. But yes, I believe that I (and you and Dorothea and others) could do it better on a grassroots level with no money — other than maybe Web conferencing which we could probably get through a partnership with OPAL or SirsiDynix or something. Look what we did with the library portion of HigherEd BlogCon and that was just you, me and Dan (and mostly just you and me)!

  • May 18, 2006 at 10:33 am

    I’m in. Let’s talk about it! (I wonder what Open Conference Systems can do for an online conference. Might be overkill, though.)

  • May 18, 2006 at 10:34 am

    Oh, God I love you ladies. I am in.

  • May 18, 2006 at 11:31 am

    “You cannot economically support everything and even free open source options often have greater costs associated with installation and support than proprietary ones.”

    While it may be true that some open source options may be more expensive, this is not an area where that is true.

  • May 18, 2006 at 11:49 am

    No, one can not support everything economically. However open source is not more expensive that commercial software, in general. But the question you have to ask is, “Do I want to pay somebody else a support contract, or do I want to spend the same amount of money for a (fraction of a) staff member to provide the support internally?”

    Which internal support will probably be more responsive than the average vendor.

  • May 18, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    I love this discussion and awareness that ALAL2 has created!

    I posted my view on my ALAL2 blog in order that outsiders could get as many perspectives from participants as possible.

  • May 22, 2006 at 10:40 am

    Meredith said earlier in this thread: Who is going to use Blogware at their library?

    Just for the record, I can name 3 libraries that use the Blogware platform as deployed through our BlogHarbor service: – Bailey Library of Hendrix College (a new blog) – UC Irvine – UC Irvine reference library

    There may be other libraries blogging through our service, but these are just the ones I can recall off the top of my head… Just because you may not be personally familiar with a blogging tool or service shouldn’t necessarily make it an invalid choice, wouldn’t you agree?

    Of course it may be difficult to move from a tool you are familiar with to one you are not familiar with; it really is like switching from Windows to a Mac since you have pre-existing ideas about how things should work and bring those biases with you. New users have no biases; it’s a lot easier for a new blogger to start with any blogging tool than for a current blogger who is happy with and intimate with their tool of choice to move to another tool, regardless of that tool’s merits.

  • May 22, 2006 at 10:55 am

    All valid points. Thanks for participating in this very interesting conversation.

    I do not think the software choices are invalid, there are just things about them that I do not like. But any software will have different pros and cons. Such is life.

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