Co-opetition and the library

“We call it co-opetition,” said Ben Hyman from the BC Libraries Co-operative, speaking at the Kootenay Library Federation conference.

“We call it co-opetition,” said Ben Hyman from the BC Libraries Co-operative, speaking at the Kootenay Library Federation conference in Fairmont Hot Springs last weekend. “We’re trying to get past the post together.”

A lover of etymological hybrids, my ears perked up. Co-opetition means that when it comes to the entities we compete against — in our case, galloping progress against a backdrop of resource challenges in a rapidly changing society — we’re are better together: as a cooperative of libraries, and as connected communities.

The libraries co-operative connects us practically through systems and support and culturally through development of data-gathering projects for public use — a Canadian Cultural Cloud. BC Libraries Co-operative is there at the starting gate, encouraging everyone to reach the finish line.

In the team sport that is libraries serving communities, keeping limber is important, and that’s where the Kootenay Library Federation conference came in. Think of it as ditching the retro Adidas for high-tech gear, the better to pound the track (and save our knees). The better to get past the post.

There are 19 Kootenay libraries in the federation The conference theme Beyond Books: The Library as Community Hub, is a nod to our changing role in this digital age: as navigators, connectors, and leaders.

There were workshops to make us better hubs, such as Connecting the Unconnected, about connecting marginalized people to resources for legal information and for understanding rights and responsibilities, and From the Outside In: The Community-Led Library, about listening to the community so as to be as welcoming as possible. So the migrant worker in Creston, the gay teen in Salmo, or the senior in Nakusp can leap the potential high-jumps of language, discrimination, or mobility.

For the movers, shakers, policy-makers and torch-bearers, there were sessions on partnerships, politics, proactive boards and other things that don’t begin with P so are therefore not in this sentence (because I do strive to make these columns entertaining. Metaphors and alliteration are my, uh, valued teammates.)

The e-Universe was especially well represented, with focus sessions such as Social Media Savvy for the Swamped Librarian, and training on the multitudinous e-Reading devices in this complex digital world that is quickly becoming home. To that end, library federation director Joanne Richards — who with assistant Helen Graham made up the endurance component of last weekend’s marathon — scored big by getting CBC Spark host Nora Young as keynote speaker.

Young is the author of The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives are Altering the World Around Us, which is a fascinating look at our obsession with self-tracking. That’s everything from Facebooking and Tweeting to digitally tracking our every move, including that morning run.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that raises questions about how we are experiencing life (or not) but also plugs into Big Data, the information-collection phenomenon that was the focal point of Young’s address.

Big Data is what happens when our compulsive self-tracking inadvertently shapes our society’s future as the data we create is collected and applied, directing outside agendas (beneficial or parasitic), so that even as we think we’re controlling our lives, we’re being controlled by the trends we create. Big, scary stuff that holds enormous potential for bad and good.

How can libraries contribute to the good? By working together as keepers of culture and identity. By being the community hub through which we better understand ourselves, celebrate our individualities and our commonalities, learn, and be inspired.

By being co-opetitive: a relay of libraries racing for a finish line that will always be moving. One foot in front of another on the track, striving to understand and embrace the changing world and the road ahead.

There are only winners, here.

Anne DeGrace is the adult services coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs bi-weekly. For more info see nelsonlibrary.ca.