Friday, June 18, 2010

What's next?

I am concerned about the future of libraries. I think the current business model of libraries, which has worked well in the past, oh, 150 years or so is under much pressure both from social media initiatives (think LibraryThing) but also from a tremendous shift in who we think about the world and what it looks like today.

The contemporary library movement is based on the ideology of modernity; and has at its heart i) uniform deliverance, ii) standards and standardization, iii) interoperability over locality, iv) exchange of records, v) de-intellecutalization of the work (which is different than "de-professionalization"), vi) industrialization of the movement, etc. This model is under pressure in the late-modern society where the authority of libraries are questioned and where librarians find themselves scrambling to establish themselves as trustworthy, where the diversity of opinions flourish and where scientific facts are interpretable, where the plurality of meaning explodes and where more people engage in meaning-making, forming opinions, and interpreting facts. The current business models of libraries clearly doesn't work in a late-modern, social mediated world…

There are at least two alternative models proposed for the late-modern library:

1. The physical library will dissolve, there is no need for physical libraries in a world that is all-digital. Libraries will only exist virtually -- all material are tagged by the community, in a Web 2.0 type fashion… people who are experts in the material will get to classify/index/tag it. Oh, and stuff that is not available in digital form will be snail mailed to you (when Netflix can do, surely librarians can figure it out as well).
The need for pre-planned large-scale systems dissolves, as the organizing and representation emerge from the use and the users.

2. The physical library becomes rooted in its local community - and as such reflect's the community's needs, philosophies, ideologies, make-up, and view of the world. These libraries are small, focuses on the localities, and are tightly connected to the particulars of the community and the people in that community. The organization and representation of material will be done with the community in mind - and with help from the community.
The need for pre-planned large-scale systems dissolves, as the organizing and representation emerge from the use and the users.

While I am not sure which way the future will go, I am certain that the current model will not stand. I am looking for moves in the library world that indicates a preference… a desire… a vision.

In the meantime: The focus should be on developing the critical skills of the next generation of librarians who will make a different in the late-modern society in libraries of the future….

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The category of literacy

I am very excited about the upcoming CoLIS conference in London next moth -- but speaking of literacy, my paper at the conference, Trusting Tags, Terms and Recommendations, [preprint here], is in an interesting session:
What I find striking is:
1. How international diverse the session is... wow...
2. That the three other papers have "information literacy" in their titles - am I in the right category? Have I been misunderstood? Do I misunderstand my own work?


June 21, 2010 update: The program has been re-organized, so I am now in a less diverse group with a couple of other Danes (talking about: "The social psychology of information use: seeking friends, avoiding enemies") and a Finn (talking about: "Diversity in the conceptions of information use"). Arh, that felt good... to be grouped with people with similar paper topics.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Today my friend Yuri pointed me to a fabulous post about colors (or "colours", I am, after all, in Canada...) -- any student of classification will at some point marvel over some of the many studies on the classification of color... but what is unique, I think, about the post that Yuri pointed me to is the attempt to figure how ordinary people (who are reading the particular blog) name a bunch of ordinary colors. The post is especially interested in the difference in the size of color vocabulary between guys and girls. Girls have a larger color vocabulary than guys. Great. Go figure. This just proves, once for all, that guys are color illiterate. Or, rather, it proves, once for all, that literacy is context-dependent and that any assumption about what it means to be literate needs to start from an understanding of what people want to accomplish... one can be illiterate [at something, by some standard (in this case the ability to name colors)] and still function very well in the world (as most guys do, also in situations where they have to name colors). The ability to name colors (or remember names of colors) is context-dependent; these colors have particular names for particular people, in particular contexts -- colors don't have names, colors are given names and the names are tied to particular activities and contexts... Which is, in fact, true for any category - it is socially constructed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

This is the end of publishing

This is brillant - and very clever!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The value of LIS education

I just watched the Friday edition of The Agenda with Steve Paikin, which was about the increase of corporate money in university research in Canada, more specifically in Ontario. The discussion centred on the decade old debate of whether university research (and education) needs to have an immediate economic benefit to business and society. It was a great debate, fair and balanced and with some good insights (though not much new stuff). The debate is interesting to LIS because we seem to have a similar debate going on -- where some people would argue that the research and education that takes place in LIS schools ought to the directly tied to the practice of LIS, others would, of course, have a more loose understanding of what it means to be educated at a research university.

Michael Buckland asked us in '96 to consider which LIS books we would hand a university president who would be interested in understanding what LIS is about… most books in LIS are "how-to" books, and as Buckland says: "books that provide a general introduction to [the] scope and nature of LIS are not common" which is quite unfortunate because "the general emphasis on professionally useful education discourages interest in the field of LIS itself, in the nature of information and information technology, and in the intellectual history of LIS because there are always more apparently useful agenda".

The Agenda has a short discussion towards the end of the program about the value of liberal arts education, and Buckland asks us to consider if we could develop a liberal arts LIS education and he suggests that: "any view of LIS is incomplete and lacking in coherence if it could not include a liberal arts program".

I fear a bit that i) the majority of the LIS community would not even be interested in entertaining the idea of a liberal arts LIS education and ii) it would be tremendously difficult to develop a liberal arts education based on the current research tradition within LIS. The reason for this is clear: LIS education is seen as a place that merely produces workers for the library industry, and it is argued that the focus of research and education in LIS school should merely reflect today's needs and practices.

I think that is sad state of affairs. It is intellectually empty -- and it does a disservice to the library profession in the long run.

Then there is always the option of moving library education out of large research universities, as my colleague Juris Dilevko suggests. This would indeed be an interesting development, and one that would certainly force LIS departments to rethink their mission.

My sense is that we need to ensure that LIS education has relevance and value beyond the needs and practices of today's and tomorrow's libraries - LIS education needs to research based (as long as it take place at research universities) and the research ought to ask larger questions, be less focused on technical minutiae, and more bold as Andrew Dillon argued a couple years ago.