Calling for a new disorganization.

Standardization is boring. SATs and GREs are boring. Reading to instruction packet to the 1040EZ is boring. So why do we do this to our libraries? To our data? To our patrons?

“Imagine my surprise when the other two speakers in the session on libraries and the future of [open educational resources] spent much of their time criticizing the ways in which librarians have engaged with open education, and lamenting the possibility of librarians being anything other than a liability.”

-Molly Kleinman

“It might be time to dabble in the laissez faire; to let the imagination run to art instead of art projects; to let the imperfect universe and its imperfect children be themselves.”

– Katie Roiphe


Libraries and the continued importance of curatorship.

From Wally at iNode: we are going to be more about data, early parts of the scholarly communication process, and “We’ll still be doing the “special collections and archives” thing as that will be a large part of what differentiates libraries.” His whole post is worth a read, but i think it only goes part of the way. While we might have reduced institutional footprints, I also believe that what will set us apart is the idea of curatorship. This is the dreaded “gatekeeper analogy that many in the library world are trying to diminish, but the idea is worth a second look. In an information environment that is too large for people to comprehend, then we need some way to organize things to understand it. Included in this is the idea that while we can lease a lot of content, it is worth considering that we don’t need access to everything (the Google approach), but just to the things our patrons actually need. Maybe we as librarians need to talk to our faculty rather than rely upon vendors to tell us what they think our faculty needs. This is curatorship, being a gatekeeper to make sure that important resources are not spent on what is not needed.


Rebeca Horton at the Curator Magazine blog quotes a 1994 Wired article by Paul Saffo, which is worth re-quoting here:

The scarcest of context resources will be something utterly beyond the ken of cold algorithms — point of view. “Point of view” is that quintessentially human solution to information overload, an intuitive process of reducing things to an essential relevant and manageable minimum. (emphasis added by Horton)

That is worth considering. Horton applies this to the design of information design, which is ultimately done by a human being, who reflects upon how data is visualized, mapped, filtered, etc. Even though this is done by computers, the design is still human, starting which what information to process and onwards. There is still a human curator. Librarians who are connected to their faculty and students don’t need to fear their role as curators. It is an important part of what we do.  The creation of a point-of-view is part of creating new knowledge that can be acted on, not just the passive intake of data. The manipulation of data is a reflective task that is part of progress, not a hindrance to it.

Education Disconnect or, what happens when personality meets the educational system

In an ideal world, education does more than give us a giant information hose from which we try and stuff down all we can find in the hopes that what we learn will adequately help us grow as human beings and/or functional members of society. A new video that popped up at Stephen’s Lighthouse. It’s produced by a company called Xplana, which proposes to act as an ERM system for individual learners which can be licensed by institutions. It connects publishers to schools to students, advertising itself as free to students, but not likely to publishers or institutions:

For educational publishers, it delivers a userfriendlyinterface and the most powerful suite of tools for turnkey digital publishing in the education market.Additionally, Xplana serves as an access and distribution point for premium content from publishers andother premium content providers, targeted to the specific academic subject need of the student.

For the student, who has access to all of the targeted resources (no explanation as to how they are targeted), they now can:

Connect your student life to your social life by integrating your Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to collaborate with friends, classmates, and other students.

We’ve seen this fallacy of thinking before. The idea that all students will willingly hook their academic life into their social life. This is the same problem that haunts academic library facebook pages everywhere. More so than other brands, from Coca-Cola to Louis Vuitton, the library “brand” has little place in our average student’s social life. The thinking goes back to the idea that brands should co-opt the identities of their customers/clients, so when it comes to social marketing, they have a great built in marketing vehicle. This only really works when the customer/client has really made the brand part of their identity. Xplana oversimplifies the logic and assumes that just because they use social networking tools, that this easily translates into social media use for educational purposes. I skeptical, but I’m not an expert. Finally, they’re already paying for premium content through their tuition at libraries.

I think that the way that this problem goes deeper. The Awl, a great resource for commentary on all of the goofiness that goes on with the younger set these days, chronicles the application process that an aspiring young woman went through for a “dream job” (internship), where she was asked to expend her social capital on Facebook to compete with another prospective candidate. The result was this:

Fiona lost the Social Media Challenge. This was doubly offensive considering the social capital she had expended transforming herself into the kind of person who brazenly self-promotes on Facebook. But her talent had not gone unnoticed, and the firm decided to hire her for the internship anyway. Three blissfully employed months passed. Then, when the internship had run its course, Fiona was told that the company could not afford to offer her a job. In her exit interview, she complained about the hiring process, which she said reflected poorly on the firm. They bought her a chocolate good-bye cake.

Deep integration of educational resources into social media promote the kind of thinking that allows companies to believe that making prospective job candidates expend their personal social lives for the betterment of their company’s profits. Essentially, the employee and the customer become the brand.

I’m not against the integration of educational resources onto mobile platforms, or to allow for the easier sharing of those resources. All of that is fine and good. But it is dangerous thing for students is to integrate business products into their social lives through the educational system, or for that matter by the educational system. It’s not okay for us to teach them that this is okay. We need to teach students that there is a difference between social networks and social media. Otherwise, we’re promoting their co-option into a system that they all demand they be Fionas. We as educators also need to learn to distinguish between connecting with our students and being invasive. If we are not teaching and respecting social boundaries in the educational system, then we’re going to fail.

Publishing Industry and Music Industry

The most obvious comparison between these two giants of intellectual property distribution is the digital connection: the music industry had a boom in the last couple of years that petered out, which relied on iTunes and streaming services, while pay-for-access still had trouble, and access through free channels is still the way to go. The widespread supposition is that live shows and higher amounts of participation in music is the way of the future, less than passive consumption. When all of the hoopla about “Millennials” came out, how they demanded more active participation in their classrooms, their culture, and in their society, this seems to mesh well. In my mind, this seems to have some connection with the diversification of music outside of the major labels, and the rise of independent labels and musicians.

Could the same thing happen to the publishing industry? Over at the comments section of a blog post about the total failure of libraries hearkening in a “Digital Underclass” (as if there wasn’t one already), one commenter posted:

Today, authors use publishers for distribution but that may change. They may start publishing their works themselves – just as some musicians do.

The reply was: “Never happen.” Looks like someone hadn’t been paying attention. In addition to self publishing sites, and Amazon getting in trouble after a really bad PR job about pedophile handbooks for the Kindle, it’s clear that self-publishing, along with the rise of small and successful publishing houses, that people are actively participating in the creation and wider distribution of content.

Musty Books – Eros or Thanatos?

David Lee King recently challenged Stephen Abrams in a smelly contest where Stephen asks of that subtle bookish perfume:

When people are telling us they like the smell of books and libraries is this what is happening? Are they actually recalling the sweet experiences of youth and visits to the library when life was fun and grand?

Then, after suggesting we add smell to e-readers: “Tongue firmly in cheek . . .”

King then quickly asserted his stance in a slightly edgy post:

Have that lovely smell of rotting glue and mold in your library? It means that your stuff isn’t relevant, and it’s been sitting for too long. You have two choices:

  1. pay people to move your stuff around
  2. get better stuff

Which makes some sense, depending on what kind of library you’re in and what your goal is. If the goal is high-use, then yes, musty books are bad. However, if the goal is to provide long-term access to intellectual content that doesn’t require electronic access through a subscription, then having a good musty book is more important than having the wrong new one. Doesn’t how you feel about book smell depend on what library you work in?

Open Library Concepts

Here’s a great open library concept: In order to borrow, you must lend. I think this goes back to what lending libraries ought to be: people sharing things because they want to, while not dealing with institutions, but with other people. Maybe our institutions are too impersonal, but I feel like this goes back to the uniqueness of collections, beyond LibraryThing. Thanks to LibraryProjects for posting about it.

Misunderstanding the library brand…

Back in 2005, OCLC released a report on user’s perception of their libraries, and the word that came back most often was “books.” It then became a clarion call to promote our digital collections, which admittedly are very handy.

But I think something got lost in the bargain. Our uniqueness. Many of our digital collections are somebody else’s. They carry the message of their publisher, not of the library. There are exceptions, but one EBSCO database (sorry, the first one that came to mind) looks like another, and sometimes their image doesn’t reflect our values, it reflects the publisher’s.

The idea that “books,” not “information” or “access” or “democracy” upset a lot of people in libraries. But what books really brought to the table is their meaning as objects: they are demanding, but they reward in-depth interaction in ways that other resources don’t. I think libraries misread this and started considering books as old and musty, not as powerful indicators of engagement with ideas.