Conduits, People, Indexes, People

I was captivated by the boldness of Hickey’s remarks as he referred to the various epochs of contemporary art, declaring that art funded by a granting agency falls flat and lacks creative innovation — that zing and punch.  Historically, the making of art has always been mischievous, as instinctively ingrained in the artist is the urge to challenge power and every authority figure possible.  –Vency Yun @ Art21

In the name of this blog is the subtitle: “this is not about science.” As a result I tend to pull a lot of things from unscienc-y places because as non-scientists, it’s good to get some fresh perspective. This quote got me going on the institutions and fields that librarianship draws its’ current thinking: social science and “information science.” Both of these fields provide valuable insight into what it is we do as librarians, but it also abstracts us from what it is that we do on a daily basis: help people find and create new knowledge. I see a lot of interesting research in LIS land. I see a lot of it that somebody could see coming a mile away. Still, a lot of it tends to be descriptive of what is happening now, but lacks a real discussion about ways to move forward. We’re a conservative bunch, but I sometimes yearn for non-institutional, human, and emotional thinking.

A good challenge to this is David Wedaman’s post at Tame The Web on the end of “Conduit Thinking“:

Here’s what I predict: we’ll wade in among the people and become them, engaging in the definition and resolution of problems that are unconduitable, because unique, complex, asymmetrical, or political. Our service provision will be indistinguishable from the normal activities of our community. We will flit happily among those teaching, learning, and doing research.


Copyright Hilary Shedel


This sounds pretty out there, but I happen to agree with it. It’s worth directing this post to somebody who has good advice with those things that sometimes escape the easily conduitable, Seth Godin. He makes the point that TV and radio ads, along with billboards are unmeasurable. They escape the easy metric of counting web-clicks. They have no easy conduit to show their worth to the person buying it. So Godin makes a simple statement: “Try to measure unmeasurable media and use that to make decisions. You’ll get it wrong. Sure, some sophisticated marketers get good hints from their measurements, but it’s still an art, not a science.” Likewise, the “unique, complex, asymmetrical, or political” problems that reference librarians face are unmeasurable and unconduitable. All of this has to do with the abstraction of information that happens when it is collected and organized. The human, the complex, the real knowledge gets lost in the abstraction, in the conduit.

An example: one of the slowmedia bloggers decided to stop using Google to search. Part of why they did this was because of the imposition of SEO practices in obfuscating the actually useful stuff, which is obvious, but their reasoning goes much deeper:

The search engine is thus the extension of what used to be a book’s index. An index leads me quickly to the things that I already knew. I can retrieve the quotes from a book. However an index does not replace the table of contents, let alone an abstract.

Instead, they find that the things friends recommended, the surprises, the quirky turns through other’s knowledge provides a much more satisfying and enlightening search experience. The index is a compilation of things that we already know, the actual text (or other experience, whatever it is) is the unknown, the thing that surprises us and helps us build new knowledge. That’s what libraries are all about. To crib from Vency, cribbing from Albert E: “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be research.”

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