One of my favorite movies is Thirteen Days, which is the behind-the-scenes story of the Cuban Missile Crisis from the perspective of Kenny O’Donnell, a longtime Kennedy Family friend. As the movie depicts, the United States wasn’t quite sure how to react to threat of nuclear weapons in Cuba. A committee of the National Security Council and close presidential advisors – EXCOMM – was formed.
Robert Kennedy – Attorney General at the time – was given control of the group. He describes the committee’s mission thusly (in one of my all time favorite movie lines): We’ve got a bunch of smart guys. We lock ‘em in a room and kick ‘em in the ass until they come up with some solutions!
Oh, that RFK…always a charmer.
I don’t think I’ll be spoiling the movie to say that EXCOMM did come up with a viable solution and nuclear war and total destruction of civilization as we know it was averted. If that did spoil the movie for you, I suggest you stop reading my blog now and maybe check out some history books? Or at least a wikipedia article?
Anyhoo, what that scene shows – and what I’m a big believer in – is the power of brainstorming with other people. Don’t get me wrong, I am also a big believer in the power of social media and have found valuable interactions to be had with others through that medium. But there’s something that happens while chatting with someone – intentionally in a meeting or just while hanging out, eating a pizza – that can’t be replicated in a chat, emails or phone calls. I don’t know if humans subconsciously pick up on facial clues, hand signals or other visuals. Hell, maybe those late night History Channels specials are right and humans all share some sort of psychic bond. All I know is that I can generate ideas and plan things much faster during and after an in-person sit down than I can after instant messaging service.
This is also one of the things I love about unconferences. First, and most obviously, there is the knowledge gained by all attendees. Secondly, there’s the empowerment of people sharing their knowledge, especially if they think that they have nothing to share. But there’s also the Big Unknown – the fact that when you get a group of people in a room with no set agenda and let them talk about the things that interest them, they can bounce ideas off of each other, combine ideas and come up with things that they didn’t realize they knew.
I know this all makes me sound like some sort of dirty hippie and I assure you that I’m not. (Not that there’s anything wrong with dirty hippies….) I don’t even really like talking to people most of the time. But occasionally I pull myself out of my shell and chat with people and that’s when the magic happens.
As you may know, this weekend we held Lawberry Camp Midwinter 2010 in Boston, graciously co-hosted by the Harvard Law School Library and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. (I would be remiss in not also thanking Local Arrangements Cool Kid Meg Kribble, without whose help Lawberry Camp would not have been possible.) I say, with all modesty, that it was a a complete success.
We had about 20 librarians from all stripes of law libraries attend. After a fascinating unkeynote address by David Weinberger, we had some great discussions ranging from infoliteracy standards for law students to an iPhone apps petting zoo to the law school bubble. (I hope some of the attendees write up some of what they’ve learned – in retrospect I wish we would have had official reporters from each section.)
There’s already been a result from the converstation…we had a giant roundtable discussion about research guides. One of the ideas bandied about was that it would great if there could be a central repository for law librarians to share research guides. I was tweeting the discussion, and John Mayer of CALI responded that Legal Education Commons is available for this. So. Yay.
I was very lucky in that post-lawberry camp, my adventures continued. I made my way to New Haven to hang out with my friend and Lawberry Camp co-organizer Jason Eiseman. It was really amazing to me how much fun and productive the days were. We communicate almost daily, yet once we got in the same room together we were able to really makes some plans. On one of the days, we were joined by Tom Bruce of the Cornell Legal Information Institute. We had both talked with Tom via various forms of media, and had briefly met at CALI in Boulder last year, but this was the first time that we had gotten to have an extensive chat. It was almost a min-summit between librarians and a legal information provider and the start of a conversation that we hope to continue.