Creepy Treehouse?

From a wonderful post on Flexknowlogy, I was introduced to the term in education technology of “creepy tree house.” From their article the definition is:

n. A place, physical or virtual (e.g. online), built by adults with the intention of luring in kids.

Example: “Kids … can see a [creepy tree house] a mile away and generally do a good job in avoiding them.” John Krutsch in Are You Building a Creepy Treehouse?”

n. Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.

(see article for remaining uses)

The main concept is a sound argument and one with which libraries struggle to find a safe distance from which to communicate with their main audience, the students. It may be difficult to let go of the notion that we need to be at arm’s reach for the students at every point along their day. Blackboard, as mentioned in the article, is a prime example of this notion.

I remember first using it as a student and laughing at the collaborative features. After using them for about 10 minutes, I asked the rest of my group whether they wanted to use Google Docs and Skype, as they were much more efficient and less buggy. I applaud Blackboard for trying to bridge the digital gap between students and faculty, but the amount of time spent using “BB only” applications will most certainly cause some students to grow weary of the labor.

Library systems are slowly entering into this realm as well, especially if we start to look at where the next-gen catalogs are going. Catalogs are now featuring clustered search results, personal item lists, and user submitted comments. Library web sites are consistently offering Instant Messaging and, to a smaller extent, text messaging reference services. These types of service methods move closer to the concept of “creepy tree house” as they mimic communication methods not normally associated with research or academic endeavors. There is also a slowly growing number of library promotional videos that pop up on YouTube, trying to ride the viral marketing wave.

I am not saying that these things are a bad move by any means, but it is important to be aware of what these movements might mean in the eyes of the new students. Will they accept librarians in their social spaces or will our presence be seen as a nuisance? I hope that students will catch on but not tune out.

In a sense the “creepy treehouse” metaphor could also be applied to the generational divide that exists when librarians or educators attempt to adopt cultural cues taken from their younger audience. Be wary of using such references if they may have a very short shelf-life, or small target audience. Once used you may not be able to regain that “respectable” status of intellectual librarian. But then again, what’s the fun in being serious all the time…

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