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Joe Janes - Learning Resources

Joseph Janes
Associate Professor, University of Washington Information School, MLIS Program Chair
Interviewed 06/18/2012

Joseph Janes discusses the Internet Public Library (IPL) and what began in 1995 as a two-credit special topics course and quickly grew into the first global and freely available online library reference service in the world that is still thriving today.

“Never underestimate the power of a good idea and people willing to work themselves like dogs to see it through.”

Special topics course on the impact of technology
The Internet Public Library (IPL) ( started out as a special topics course on the impact of technology. This type of course would be an excellent way for LIS students to gain knowledge about current and relevant technologies.

What can the library learn from others and what can others learn from the library?
Ask yourself what the library world can offer to new environments, including new communities, initiatives, projects, issues, problems, challenges, etc.

Enthusiasm, excitement, commitment and potential
Even if you do not know exactly what the process will be, go for it! Because when people with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement commit to an idea, then that idea has the potential to be catapulted into action and grow into something that has long-term impact.

A project can be an immersive learning experience
Working on a project can help you gain experience in different kinds of processes that librarians go through out in the field. For example, when developing an online collection, you would need to create a collection development policy and determine your criteria for selection and what the collection should cover.

Look to the past
Especially for those of you who are just starting out and for those who discount the past: “The more you look at what has come before, the more you will find that it’s familiar going forward.” Today’s issues have been dealt with in a similar form in the past. Looking to the past and seeing the evolution of ideas can help you gain perspective on how to manage current issues. For example, the developers of the IPL researched the literature on phone reference when determining how to do online reference.

It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission
In certain circumstances, it may be best to boldly go forward and execute without seeking permission first. You can ask for forgiveness afterwards.

Public perception and public relations
You can help shape public perception by the way you frame, describe, promote and brand your project. For example, the IPL’s PR group sent out a press release about the launch of the Internet Public Library that generated so much interest that 3,000 people immediately signed up for the listserv. Publicity helps to generate interest, which in turn, helps to encourage trial, acceptance and use. Hence, user adoption can be highly dependent on public perception.

Be prepared for pushback
Not everyone will be excited about your new ideas. There are some in the library profession who fear change. This fear runs the gamut from a healthy amount of fear of the new and unknown to complete paranoia.

Embracing and rejecting innovation
Although there is a strong tradition of innovation in librarianship, there is also resistance to change. This co-existence “simultaneously opens the door for us and inhibits us.”

Create a sustainability plan
The long-term success of your project usually depends on having a sustainability plan for the management and funding of the project.

Anything is possible
“Never underestimate the power of a good idea and people willing to work themselves like dogs to see it through.” Anything is possible when a dedicated group in sync works hard together to reach the same goal.

“It’s exactly the same and completely different.” – Dave Carter
“The idea of being able to embrace and enfold previous practice, but also to invest it with new ideas and not be beholden to the past, but not abandon it altogether either—I think a lot of that is bound up in exactly the same but completely different.” -- Joseph Janes

“There’s a lot to be learned from the heritage of librarianship and archival work and museums and other cultural heritage institutions but you kind of have to be able and willing to look at that with fresh eyes, leave some of it behind, grieve it a little bit if you do, take the stuff that makes sense, and be willing to add to it and think about it in an entirely different way.” -- Joseph Janes

Familiarity makes adoption easier
When new ideas are familiar to communities, colleagues and clients, then it is easier for them to accept and adopt those ideas.

Branding: The power of the word “library” in Internet Public Library
Because they called it a “library” and because they acted like librarians, then it was easier for people to understand the concept of the IPL.

There’s no way to fail
Joseph Janes had five goals for the IPL course and the last of these five goals was “There’s no way to fail.” This created a net, a safe space in knowing that the outcome was not relevant. The work itself was what was valuable because the students learned so much in the process-- about web technologies, the internet, librarianship, service, collections and evaluation.