Bunnies doing Arithmetic: MLA 2010 Day 2
The sun finally come out in San Diego today, which lent meaning and credence to the idea of a “sunshine tax” being levied on the residents by means of the high cost of living. Gabe & I went sailing with some friends and then continued up to La Jolla for a tasty meal at Alfonso’s Mexican Restaurant. Although I would skip La Jolla if you are looking for high-fallutin’ shopping: head straight for the shore and watch the seals duke it out with one another.
I digress. I decided to check out the panel on Second Life today, which was offered by three librarians from American University: Nobue Matsuoka-Motley, Rachel Borchardt, and Michael Matos. They gave a forty five minute overview of what second life was and how it was being used by libraries and arts organizations, and then shared the results of a survey that they conducted in which they asked various libraries how they cultivated their presence.
A few statistics leapt out at me: it turns out that 37% of second life users are between 25 and 34, and 18% of users are logged on for more that 51 hours a month. It was also cool to see Matos, the business librarian of the group (Borchardt is a science librarian, and Matsuoka-Motley is a music librarian), bring the idea of the Gartner Hype Cycle to bear on digital humanities projects. For better or for worse, he noted, Second Life is sliding down into what Gartner calls the Trough of Disillusionment (cue spooky music).
The survey results suggested that all the work that has gone in to creating second life worlds might not be paying off: most of the respondents said that they only had between one and five visitors to their SL presence each month, although one library was able to get 50+ visitors per month. Many of the sites, the panelists noted, appeared to be in disarray. One library’s site – which this blog is too discreet to name – apparently consisted of a dead six foot tall bunny lying in the middle of one room (although it might have been sleeping), and a group of bunnies gathered in a circle doing arithmetic in an adjacent room (cue more spooky music). I wondered to myself if that university might have recently hired David Lynch as their music librarian, but didn’t want to get distracted.
I ducked out as the Q & A started, but one of the audience members asked, reasonably, whether SL was an appropriate technology for music libraries at schools with large undergraduate populations, given that the average age of SL users was north of 30.
This seemed to me to hint at a larger payoff for the panel, and one that I think musicologists could learn from: they appeared content to report a largely negative result at a conference. What I took from the talk was that Second Life was only mildly successful, and difficult to use for libraries – and that was ok. In musicology, by contrast, and I imagine many other fields of humanistic study, there is an expectation that a line of inquiry that doesn’t result in some smashingly positive result shouldn’t be shared. But why is that the case? There seems to be a lot of merit to give a panel that says “exercise caution when getting excited about SL for your library, because many have gone down that path and most have little to show for it.” But I imagine that a mutatis mutandis case for musicologists — I took a serious, hard look at source X, or archive Y, or repertoire Z, and didn’t find anything to recommend pursuing this topic further — might be met with icy resistance, or might quickly descend into the accusation that the researcher was simply being close-minded about source X, Y, or Z. Granted, the nature of argumentation for this panel, which relied on readily quantifiable forms of data (although, I might add, some very smart quantitative analysis), does not easily translate onto many forms of musicological argument. But I have seen my share of bunnies doing arithmetic while investigating topics, and instead of sharing my discovery with the public, backed out of the room and quietly closed the door behind me. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Might we not at least leave a “bunnies inside” note for later researchers?
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