Research libraries may not know as much as click-obsessed Amazon does about how people interact with their books. What they do know, however, reflects the behavior of a community of scholars, and it’s unpolluted by commercial imperatives. -David Weinenberger, A Good, Dumb Way to Learn From Libraries
But it appears that the author wants to change that. Big data is a shorthand for actual use and understanding especially to compare across communities, which Weinenberger gets. But the man must have no idea what collections, acquisitions, reference, liaison librarians or bibliographers do. Also, he seems to have a blind spot for the common functions of library management systems. Instead he proposes spending inordinate amounts of time and money building goofy websites like Stacklife. That’s fine if you’re Harvard. But what is the point of doing all this, and asking others to devote their time to it? He says “Too bad we can’t put to work the delicious usage data gathered by libraries,” but never answers why and to whom this is important. It’s big data as the new “library 2.0″ and it is pretty cool but also pretty useless, unless you want to make your library an echo chamber. He even admits that potential for this kind of system to do this, but suggests it anyway.
I am here to defend the archive from the canon. By giving a little number to books, and ranking them that way, it will remove any need to think about what books to grab. Scholars, and students alike function on the principle of least effort for research. (Cite) By making use the main metric of books, ruts of thought will be carved out faster and faster while anything off of those paths will be ignored. Big data is statistical groupthink and it is not good for building critical thinking. We as educators and as keepers of archival forms of knowledge know this, but that doesn’t make for pitching “good, dumb” ideas.
And let’s be honest, we don’t need any more inroads for privatization. It is well and good for Harvard to make a somewhat useless website, but the private takeover in public goods is real. It’s bad enough in higher education, but this is also instructive: that pesky data protection will always be eroded in the face of business interests, laws notwithstanding. Homogenization through big data is a real danger as we try and conform to the ways of looking that are proposed by those in centers of influence and power. Consider the following cases in point:
When I look around, I see the culture we’ve built turning from a liberating revolution into a repressive incumbency. We’ve built magical devices, but we don’t care enough about protecting ordinary people from harm when they use them. -Pete Warden, Nerd Culture is Destroying Silicon Valley
I am over hearing from people within jogging distance of the Chelsea galleries that the whole of contemporary art is over; that art is no longer emotionally or intellectually fulfilling; that art is too expensive even for millionaires. I’m done reading articles titled “Why Does So Much New Abstraction Look the Same?,” written by people who haven’t figured out that Manhattan has bridges and tunnels and a subway. And I’m tired of pretending that a global elite has a monopoly on the expression of “ideas and feelings,” when there are thousands of people working every day outside of that slipstream as proof otherwise. -Ric Kasini Kadour, I Don’t Care About David Byrne Anymore?
The last thing that I posted was the dangers of microfascisms and what Weinberger proposes here is a real one. So yes, it’s a dumb idea, but not for the technical dumb/smart technological reasons, but because it is an idea that runs so counter to archival knowledge and the production of critical thought that is is an embarrassment to the concept or education. There is little need for more ghosts in the machines. To say that this is learning from libraries is disingenuous. This is pure resource extraction.