Friday, November 14, 2008

Are Libraries Knowledge Cafes?

World Cafés are an emerging phenomenon. It's a conversational process based on an innovative yet simple methodology for hosting conversations about questions that matter. These conversations link and build on each other as people move between groups, cross-pollinate ideas, and discover new insights into the questions or issues that are most important in their life, work, or community. As a process, the World Café nurtures the collective intelligence of any group, and in doing so increases people's capacity for effective action in pursuit of common or similar aims.

The World Café refers to a living network of conversations that is continually co-evolving as we explore questions that matter with our family, friends, colleagues, and community. In helping us notice these invisible webs of dialogue and personal relationships that enable us to learn, create shared purpose, and shape life-affirming futures together, the metaphor of the "World as Café" is a growing global community of people, groups, organizations, and networks using World Café principles and processes to harness wisdom of the crowds.

As information professionals and librarians, we need to take notice of such trends and see how it can be applied in our own work spaces. Many knowledge managers today are introducing what they call knowledge commons in which employees can freely (or not) chat among themselves as they commute to and fro during the day. As a result, this space is turned into a knowledge hub where gossip, conversation, and useful ideas normally trapped within the confines of cubicle and office walls are broken free and released into the work place, making for a growth of a healthy work culture and environment.

In a way, this is done everyday in the form of Web 2.0 technologies through social network and instant messaging programs such as Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, and blogs. Employers, especially knowledge workers, must find a way to integrate this into their working spaces. In my opinion, libraries and information centres need to look towards the knowledge cafes model. Libraries must turn towards becoming information cafes and less as gatekeepers of information.

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