[This was originally written for a course on Information and Communication Technology]

“Connected data” and “connectedness” don’t necessarily carry the same meaning for me. “Connectedness” implies something more human – a person-to-person link – whereas “connected data” might foster the former, but are reducible to pixels and bytes.

That suggests that “connected data” are invariably digital… which isn’t quite what I meant, because it’s easy to think of ways in which non-digital information or data may be connected in various ways (texts by the same author, or on the same subject, for example). I do, however, think that digital data are easier to connect together, and that it’s easier for users to connect with those data as well. The hope with changing technologies is that they will enable users to make those connections faster/better/easier, allowing users to choose between different possibilities to find the one(s) that work(s) best for them.

We’ve looked at, used, and developed a number of different tools in this class, most although not all of them being web-related in some way (and even the ones that are not inherently web-related, like databases, can be accessed or used online). Most of these tools promote connections between pieces of data – databases most obviously, but web pages, blogs, and wikis all bring together information, for example by including links to other sites. Many of them also promote connections between the data and users, as in the way that wikis typically allow any user to add or edit information on their pages. Some of them facilitate connectedness between users, as with blogs where a reader can respond directly to the blogger.

The key thing to remember, though, is that no tool is perfect for every purpose, and also that however cool something is, if it doesn’t produce the kind of results we’re hoping for (whatever those may be), it’s pretty much useless. A wiki is a pallid and lifeless thing if no one out there is interested enough to contribute to it. Podcasts that no one wants to hear sound their barbaric yawp over the rooftops and into silence. (Sorry, got a bit carried away there.)

So I can see potentially using many or all of these tools, as a librarian, but I don’t think any one of them is truly necessary to do the job and do it well. They’re tools. Means to an end, not the end itself. If using podcasts and RSS feeds helps my library reach out to undergraduates and tell them about the things the library can assist them with, then those are good tools to use. If Adobe Connect Pro lets me meet virtually with colleagues at other institutions, so that we can brainstorm and work together without having to spend scarce funds on airfare and hotels, then that’s a good tool. If my department can use a wiki internally to get all of our procedural documents online, rather than producing dozens of paper copies and having to redo them all the time as the procedures are updated, then that’s a good tool, too.

We need to be aware of what’s out there, technologically. It’s changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up, and invariably we’ll get into some ruts. One can imagine hearing in ten years, “We’ve always had a weekly podcast!” The point is to do our best to stay aware, to stay flexible, to use the tools that work and not be afraid to try new ones or discard old ones if they’re not doing the job any more.