The purpose of a librarian is to help the reader navigate overwhelm. The library is a huge place, that collects information that is organized by a set of rules. The librarian, familiar with the rules, listens to the reader and guides them to the appropriate section, author, or title. On the internet, we are faced with one of the largest libraries in the world. Similar to the moving staircases in Harry Potter, the rules change, the platforms change, and it can be difficult to find real news, useful information, or good content. Because the internet is vast and hard to navigate, I find we need guides, similar to librarians, who can take us to the places that contain the information that we need.
The first librarian is our search engine (most likely Google). However Google is influenced by paid advertisements, and our results can be determined by what people want to sell us rather than what we actually want to read. This is why I have come back to a more humanistic approach to getting recommendations, since people tend to curate every day and can guide us (like librarians) to the real and true information. The second librarian, then, is our community.
Every day I am on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, scrolling through a sea of content, liking, following, and unfollowing as I see fit. This is a form of curation that allows me to tailor my feed to my tastes. You do this, your friends to this, and anyone online does a version of this, making us all curators. We weed out what we don’t want to see and maximize what we do want. The result is a unique assortment of content that falls in line with what we want. Each person has specific taste, which makes each collection of online content singular and special.
For example, I have a friend named Oscar who subscribes to an assortment of meme pages on Facebook, which he then shares through his own Facebook page. He shares the ones that he likes, and thus establishes a tone through his shared content. I enjoy the memes that Oscar shares, and even though he is not producing original content, the stream itself feels like original content. It is a little like making a music mashup. The final result is a piece of art build from the art of others. It reminds me of collages, or a scrapbook collection.
Oscar’s product is his taste, which I support and subscribe to. In an effort to understand other people’s tastes and tendencies towards curation, I started a project called “CultureBucket”, in which I ask my friends every year to make a “Best of” list of media they consumed. This way I get a sense of what my friends are interested and the themes they follow in their own curation. I post these lists on a blog which you can read here.
There are other folks as well who have really leaned in to the curation game. My favorite is Maria Popova, creator of Brainpickings (link). Self-described as a “curator of interestingness”, Popova reads a massive amount of books weekly, and shares excerpts of her favorites online. Many of the books she picks can be found at your local library. She will sometimes review bestsellers, but she also manages to bring in older books and authors that have insight that is still relevant today. On the topics of love, creativity, and living well, I find myself constantly coming back to Brainpickings for Popova’s exceptional taste.
So, by taking note of how both Oscar and Popova manage to drive interest simply through sharing their collections, I think that we all can become conscious curators. Futhermore, I think knowing that curation is an art can help us find good accounts to follow as well. I find Joi Ito to be my favorite online curator. He has a podcast series in which he interviews his friends and colleagues in a informal manner, discussing extremely relevant and technical problems that we face today. Most recently I find myself re-listening to his conversation with Virginia Heffernan (link) in which they talk about how language and the internet influence each other. These conversations often serve as leads for other topics I am interested in. I am currently reading two books, each written by different folks Joi Ito has interviewed.
I believe it is a meaningful pursuit to be a conscious curator of your own feed, and to pursue others who also are aware of the content that they are consuming and sharing. In the modern sea of media, we all become guides of our own areas of interest and expertise. We are all librarians of specific sections, and we become that much more powerful by helping others work their way through the stacks.