Library professional organisations getting on the Cluetrain.


The Cluetrain Manifesto turns ten this year. The 95 Theses are still relevant today.

I’ve been thinking about Cluetrain and how professional library associations should – or can- cope with the multiplicity of tools and fora discussing what they are doing.

I wonder whether the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto would have thought that 10 years later organisations – and many of us individuals – would be looking at the changes to media and communication and scratching our heads saying “What happened, how did it get so fast and how do we use it now? “. Here are a few of the Cluetrain theses that I think are most relevant:

3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
5 .People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
6 .The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.


38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.
39. The community of discourse is the market.
40. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
41. Companies make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.


64. We want access to your corporate information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.

94. To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.
95. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

I would add to this that the people who are talking about your organisation are those who care – passionately –  about what you do. They are taking time to gather with each other, talk about what you do and maybe – in fact probably – they would welcome the human voice from your organisation.

Can – and should – library professional organisations monitor all places where their members may be discussing what they do? Can – and should – organisations choose to continue the conversation via other media, rather than where their members are having discussions?

CILIP ATwitter in the UK

CILIP started me thinking about all this on 18 February when  Bob McKee, CILIP’s Chief Executive declared categorically that there was no place for a CILIP Twitter account, All of a Twitter .

There’s some twittering at present about whether CILIP has (or should have) any “official” presence on various lists or micro blog sites.

The simple answer, of course, is no. In terms of “official” activity, cyber life is just like real like – if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it’s official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else’s space, it isn’t.

Phil Bradley took Bob to task, CILIP – Epic Fail . I won’t repeat his excellently argued response, but one of the points he made was that the conversation on Twitter about CILIP was actually two weeks before, and the lag in the response was highly inappropriate.

ALIA from Australia in a hyperconnected world

As the Australian Library and Information Association has discovered this week, 24 hours is a long time in a hyperconnected world.

As best I can find, the announcement that IFLA is moving from Brisbane to Sweden in 2010 was made around 4:30pm AEST on Wednesday 8th.  (UPDATE 8:30pm 13 July 2009: Sue Hutley from ALIA has contacted me to clarify that the first email to members was sent at 6:30pm AEST, not 4:30pm) By midnight, discussions on Twitter among Australian librarians had spilled out onto a blog post at Libraries Interact about organising an alternative event during this time, IFLA 2010 .

The first official response  to the call for a different event came on ALIA’s board blog around 3ish the next day…. via Jan Richards the ALIA President,IFLA 2010. In this, she asks that:

True to the Australian spirit of “lets’ move on” the lists and emails are alive “where do we go from here?” “can we now have a biennial?” and innovative ideas for professional development and networking. As we have only lived with IFLA’s decision for less than 48 hours we still have a great deal to work through and I would urge you to be patient. The National Committee will meet again by teleconference next week to discuss future options and the ALIA Board has earmarked this as a priority item. In the interim let’s stay focused and resist the temptation to organise a plethora of unrelated events.

In other words – “we are discussing it among ourselves, not in public and will let you know when we know more”. Fair enough.

That would have been a very reasonable position three years ago. Is it today? I don’t know, but I suspect that if this happened in a year’s time, then it would definitely not be.

I think that ALIA  – and other library professional associations – can learn a few things from how this was handled:

1. It would have been very useful to have a media strategy during a crisis to be present online on Twitter, email lists etc other than speaking in “press release” style communication.  A strategy to telephone some members directly about what they were saying on email lists, rather than engaging with them on the lists may not have been the best one. Easy for me to say – I guess the office did not have staffing enough to do this and was handling a lot all of a sudden … but I think this will be a greater priority in the future. The time it took to telephone one or two members may have been better channeled toward communicating on email lists, blogs or Twitter.

2. While it was a good move to comment on the blog post at Libraries Interact and offer to communicate, giving out a phone number and offering to talk one to one was probably not the way that people on that forum prefer to communicate. It would also have inspired more confidence in the association’s ability to technically handle new media if someone from ALIA office had directly posted the comment, not got someone else to post it on their behalf.

3. Not allowing comments on the ALIA Board Blog forces the online conversation elsewhere. Much harder to monitor . Much harder for supporters to show support. I think that in the future, providing public online space for members to discuss the organisiations’ decisions will  be a requisite function of a professional organisation.

When asked via Twitter why there were no comments allowed on the Board Blog, @ALIANational answered that the reason was “apparently technical”. That sounds really, really odd to me. A procedural, administrative decision or a  skills-based decision maybe. Given that it looks like a WordPress blog with a modified Kubrick theme, all they would need to do technically is change one setting under Setttings > Discussion….. or to change the setting on the individual blog post to allow comments… which overrides the “Discussion” setting  anyhow.


ALA and ALASecrets2009 in Chicago, USA

Hiring Jenny Levine was one of the smartest ways that the ALA has tried to cope with issues raised by Cluetrain.  Check out the member’s online space, ALAConnect for an example of how a good Drupal installation integrated with iMIS can work to provide online space for communication between members and each other, and the organisation. Jenny’s efforts to evangelise and make people feel at home there are just as important as the technical setup.

The most bizarre and entertaining example of how new media can challenge a library professional association is happening right now at the American Library Association Conference.

I’m not sure there is anything ALA can or should do right now, but association members are chatting very publicly about an event being held by the association – and in a very different voice to that which the organisation uses.

Like bored schoolkids a few people set up an @ALASecrets account on Twitter. They gave out the password and told people to post. Look at a Twitter search for ALASecrets and you will see what I mean. The most re-tweeted post?

#ala2009 has confirmed what have suspected for years. Librarians mostly function on sex, alcohol and wifi. Everything else is meh

Someone among librarians – those protectors against censorship of information – took exception to the fun, logged in with the password then changed the password to something else and made the account a protected (non-public) one.

Within a couple of hours, the concept was back and censor-proof. Now an email to will post directly to a new account, ALASecrets2009 . There are a few other ways to post, as detailed in this post , ALA Secrets , at the not all bits blog.



…We are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down…. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting….

6 thoughts on “Library professional organisations getting on the Cluetrain.

  1. I find the Cluetrain stuff pretty offputting, and I think it is because #3 there, about sounding human, doesn’t seem to apply to Cluetrain itself. Unreasoned statements about “the market” seem inherently like corporate dogma. I haven’t been able to get over it in 10 years.

  2. I think we’re all a bit stunned that IFLA came so close to touching down in Australia only to be snatched away. We live in very precarious times and I feel sad for the people who worked so hard towards what would undoubtedly have been a fabulous conference and many excellent satellite events.

    I think in answer to your question “Can – and should – library professional organisations monitor all places where their members may be discussing what they do?” the answer is probably NO. We all acknowledge that Twitter is a back channel – a less formal space for conversations where in the extreme brevity of 140 characters short telegrams flash around at breakneck speed. I think it’s great that many of us are using Twitter and that ALIA has jumped on board with @ALIANational but I would hate to think that the association was monitoring all of our communications – that sounds a bit too much like Orwell’s Big Brother in “1984” for my liking.

    You also ask “Can – and should – organisations choose to continue the conversation via other media, rather than where their members are having discussions?” That strikes me as an odd question – as a librarian I always look to verify the sources of information, and I’m wary of Twitter, in particular, since there are so many fake celebrities twittering. When I saw the first message I went looking for official press releases from both IFLA and ALIA to be sure I could believe it was happening.

    I guess you noticed that IFLA does appear to have a Twitter account but there are no messages there at all despite the current situation surrounding their conference.

    The Cluetrain manifesto speaks about “markets” and yes, I suppose, ALIA does have a market of Australian library workers and institutions – yet many of those workers are not ALIA members. I think ALIA’s first loyalty is to its members and as a member I received an official email within minutes of the official announcements. I’m also pretty sure that if we took a straw poll a lot of ALIA members aren’t on Twitter or monitoring blogs so the official communication has to reach the majority not just the technologically adept (no criticism of people who prefer pens and catalogue cards intended).

    So Kathryn, here is the challenge for you, as Mahatma Gandhi said “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” So please stand for the ALIA Board at the next election and help ALIA be all it can be.

  3. hi katherine

    just a little something more on mylee’s point about your question: “can – and should – library professional organisations monitor all places where their members may be discussing what they do?” my perspective here is a little different to mylee’s. yes, twitter is a back channel, but it is one that alia is choosing to be active in. would it be big brotherish for alia to monitor the conversation happening in the twitterverse? well, there’s another choice here, too, beyond the organisation’s choice to be in the space: the choice to be followed by alia. i’ve made a conscious decision to follow organisations but to decline requests to be followed by organisations. i pondered this decision for some time before i made it. for me, twitter feels like too personal a communication channel for me to open up my tweeting to organisations. put simply: i whinge there. do i want my professional association seeing all of that?

    but those people who have private twitter streams and have chosen to allow alia (or any organisation) to follow them have made an entirely different decision: they have decided they want that organisation to listen to their tweeting. i don’t think it’s big brotherish for that organisation to weigh in on the conversations of people it follows, where those conversations are about it, or are relevant to it (or even if they’re not relevant to it – i can’t tell you how many conversations i’ve jumped into since i started using twitter just because i’m amused or interested). by requesting to follow someone, you (or the organisation, in this case) are implying that you’re going to read what that person tweets, that there will be some kind of engagement with that person.

    if any organisation chooses to be present in these spaces, and in particular, to follow other participants in these spaces, then in my opinion, they have to be prepared to engage in dialogue in those spaces.

    should professional associations monitor all the spaces in which their members might be discussing what they do? well, call me a control freak, but if there was a conversation happening about me, or about an organisation i’m invested in, then i’d kind of want to be hearing it (and participating in it!). if the conversation is happening in a space in which the organisation is ostensibly participating, then yes, i think there is an expectation that the conversation will be monitored (which is precisely why i choose not to be followed by organisations), and that the organisation will engage with the people it follows through dialogue.

    i think organisations – any organisation, not just professional associations – need to be careful about jumping in to spaces like twitter. there are expectations in these forums – immediacy, transparency, dialogue – that are scary, potentially burdensome (in terms of workload related to responding to comments etc), and essentially entirely new concepts for many organisations. for this reason, i think participation in these forums should be something that is thought-through, with the risks acknowledged and mitigation strategies in place. if you’re in it, you’ve got to be really and truly in it. twitter isn’t a broadcast announcement service – being in it means participating in two-way conversation.

    communication through traditional channels on this issue has been good, so well done on that front to alia and ifla. having said that, i heard about it first via a friend’s status message on facebook and second via a tweet, then went looking for the official line. a tweet with a link to the press release would have meant my first information about the cancellation would have been from the organisation’s perspective, not from the perspective of my disappointed facebook friend.

    last but not least, the board blog: like mylee, i feel for all the people who’ve worked hard on ifla and i’m disappointed that we won’t see an ifla in australia in 2010. this would have been a tough call for both associations to make, but it was ultimately a sensible call. i’d love to have been able to express this sentiment in a comment on the board blog.

  4. Hi Ignorance, Yeah Cluetrain does talk in extreme and oversimplistic language that turns some people off. I think it’s the nature of anything calling itself a “manifesto” though. It may be that the places where it pisses the most people off it starts them thinking the most too…. then again, it may just piss them off and stop them listening.

  5. Mylee and Kate – thanks so much for your well thought out elaboration on points I only sketched out – and that I was actually kind of wishy washy about too.

    Morgan Wilson has also given an interesting response, including a reaction to your comments on a post on his blog, confessions of a little brother who is also a librarian.

    I liked his musings about searchability of the archive we leave behind with social media…and whether how much the drawbacks of engaging may outweigh the benefits.

    As I was falling asleep last night, it made sense to me about why a couple of people were pointing out to me that ALIA had emailed their members about the IFLA announcement. I had been puzzled – of *course* they emailed their members. If they hadn’t then I would have pointed that out in my post, it’s just what organizations *do*. It just didn’t feature on my radar as part of what I was talking about – the human to-ing and fro-ing that could have happened after the initial bombshell and how to cope with new media.

    It would have been remiss of ALIA not to email the majority of their members who are not engaged with social media, but that wasn’t the focus of my post, so I hadn’t mentioned it. I received the initial message from two listservs, an email from ALIA and three peoples’ Twitter accounts within the space of five minutes. What I was interested in was what happened after.

    In a useful move, ALIA has set up the ALIA Event 2010 WIKI where people can give their thoughts on what event should replace IFLA, given that ALIA Biennial and the New Librarians’ Symposium were not going to run in 2010 due to IFLA.

  6. Hi Kathryn, I was also meaning to comment here originally, but my thoughts went off on such a tangent that I thought they deserved their own post.

    I’m not a member, and so I don’t know if it’s my place to be giving advice to ALIA. All I’ll say is that I think that it is extremely normal and not at all sinister for any organisation – whether it be a commercial enterprise, non-profit or other professional association – to want to know what other people are saying about it.

    I don’t see anything sinister in an organisation ethically monitoring publicly available information sources. After all, there are quite a few people like me in the Special Library sector, who do this as a part of their job.

    I also think that an organisation which takes the time to monitor such conversations (which is basically listening) might as well then participate in the conversation as well, because that’s where the real payoff is. It’s also annoying and messy at times, but that’s the way it goes.

    I am very excited by ALIA’s Event 2010 wiki. I do not agree with the point of view that it is impossible to have a good event without two years of planning.

What do you think? Let us know.