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Convergence & Community

Convergence & Community

Harrington School-Wide / Journalism / Library & Information Studies

In an effort to analyze the common values, roles and responsibilities that journalists and librarians share, the Harrington School of Communication and Media organized “Convergence and Community: Preparing Future Workers for a New Knowledge Network of Libraries, Newsrooms, Studios, and Agencies,” a conference on January 16 and 17, 2013.

Extraordinary People. Professors and faculty from the Harrington School’s disciplines attended the conference, and were able to connect and collaborate with local and national leaders in new media, library sciences and journalism. Names from old and new media lended their expertise to the conference, such as Michael Fancher, former executive editor of the Seattle TimesAmy Garmer, director of journalism projects for the Aspen Institute in Washington, Linda Fantin of Minnesota Public Radio and Jim Hummel, executive director of the Rhode Island based Hummel Report.

Participant-Centered Dialogue. In order to facilitate discussion, there were no panels or keynote speeches. Instead, participants shared and discussed ideas together in breakout sessions, or collective conversations with experts. This approach, called catalytic conversation, allowed the conference attendees to face the unknowable future of journalism and library sciences together, and speculate on how the two interdisciplinary fields could be brought together. The idea of newsrooms and libraries converging was symbolized by one word: “newsbrary.”

“The word ‘newsbrary’ is an effort to project people’s thinking that newsrooms and libraries have a common purpose now, and have somewhat common tools,” said Bill Densmore, a Research Fellow at the Harrington School of Communication and Media and director of Journalism That Matters, Inc..  Densmore was the convener and organizer of the Convergence and Community conference.

Newsrooms and Libraries Share Common Values. The origins of the term “newsbrary” is a prime demonstration of how ideas are organically formed through fruitful collaboration. Coined by Linda Fantin, director of network journalism and innovation for American Public Media, the word “newsbrary” signifies the idea that newsrooms and libraries have roles and responsibilities that are not only facing similar threats due to new media, but also have similar goals that can be reached in a more efficient manner by working together. As more people turn to the Internet for news and information, newsrooms and libraries are under pressure to revolutionize their practices to rely less on physical presence and more on the Internet, and still work in the service of communities.

“Some of the ways we connect with each other as communities aren’t as prominent as they were decades ago,” said Densmore. “Churches aren’t as widespread, and schools aren’t as much as a meeting place because everyone is so busy. There’s an opportunity now for libraries and newsrooms to take on a civic engagement role.”

Focus on Civic Engagement, Community and Inquiry. According to Densmore, libraries and newsrooms both are concerned with civic engagement. The goals of libraries, said Densmore, were fostering civic literacy and trying to help the community connect with itself by providing a meeting space for community conversation. At the same time, they were also concerned with public access to information, a common goal of journalists, who benefit from having a literate public that is hungry for information. With the Internet now providing information to those who desire it, Densmore said, the values of librarians and journalists have never been more similar.

“The Internet is how we read books, gather information, and its how we connect with each other,” Densmore said. “The tools of libraries and newsrooms are converging around the Internet. Realizing that librarians and journalists do have similar challenges and purposes— and that the Internet sits at the center of both— was one of the conference’s most important breakthroughs.”

Dynamic Technological Change. The technology can be used to help librarians and journalists today could change completely tomorrow. The pace at which technology and new media is advancing is startling fast, and new analysis of new challenges may be needed. The future of “newsbrary,” according to Densmore, is not one that anyone can be sure of, since no one can truly predict how technology will further alter the information world.

“The pace that technology is changing and disrupting how we used to do things can be overwhelming,” Densmore said. “There’s always a new tool coming out that you have to worry about because of how it affects your world. One of the big challenges is that there’s no perceived wisdom about what the future’s going to look like, and that makes it very hard to prepare.”

by Kimberly DeLande