Organization and Noise.

That is, all deviation from the most banal linguistic order entails a new kind of organization, which can be considered as disorder in relation to the previous organization, and as order in relation to the parameters of the new discourse. Tht s, ll dvtn frm th mst bnl lngstc rdr ntls nw knd f rgnztn, whch cn b cnsdrd s dsrdr n rltn t th prvs rgnztn, nd s rdr n rltn t th prmtrs f th nw dscrs. _

vhbjscfrcgthj_

??_

cn hv nggt nw?_

ll ths brds wth tth_ But whereas classical art violated conventional the conventional order of language within well-defined limits, contemporary art constantly challenges the initial order by means of an extremely “improbable” form of organization. Umbero Eco, The Open Work, p.60.

Traditionally, links were seen as annotations, or sometimes just “further reading,” but significant use makes in-line linking part of the text, a way to phrase a thought ( Interface Culture, p.133). What appears to be disorder in the library-driven sense (annotation), makes perfect sense in the use of hypertext as in-line extension of thought. There’s no point in saying it again if someone else says it better. Like modern art as Eco sees it, this challenges the organizational structure entirely. It also creates noise.

Noise being one of the most interesting ways that people find ways to disrupt and/or participate in a highly mediated and organized system. Consider the “library” of nolayout.com. Being free and purposefully chaotic, it looks noisy if you expect regular organization. But the logic is the order of submission, along with the OK of the content by the editors, subject to the opacity of their workflow. A quick look at the source for the page helps:

        <li>

<a id=”daniel-schmal” href=”/daniel-schmal/primarily-stoked/“>

<img src=”http://image.issuu.com/110527143230-d11bda830e184d55a2e826cbe2afb9c1/jpg/page_1_thumb_medium.jpg” alt=”Primarily Stoked thumbnail”  onmouseover=”showtip(event, ‘<p><b>Primarily Stoked</b> – published by Daniel Schmal, 2011</p>’);” onmouseout=”hidetip();” />

<span id=”description”>A series of prints with a supplementary zine. Archival Pigment Prints, 20&quot; x 24&quot;. http://www.danschmahl.com</span&gt;

</a>

</li>

<li>

<a id=”22-16-summa” href=”/22-16-summa/22-16-summa-issue-1/“>

<img src=”http://image.issuu.com/110525150757-2feb076ef4774282aedc72cdca17dbfa/jpg/page_1_thumb_medium.jpg” alt=”22:16:Summa Issue #1 thumbnail”  onmouseover=”showtip(event, ‘<p><b>22:16:Summa Issue #1</b> – published by 22:16:Summa, 2011</p>’);” onmouseout=”hidetip();” />

<span id=”description”>Printed in April 2011.  http://www.2216summa.tumblr.com</span&gt;

</a>

</li>

And so on (No Layout Source 052711). The day I pulled this, Schmal’s “Primarily Stoked” was the most recent item. Noise and disorder allow for the creation of connections (by way of editorial policy and time of submission) that might not have existed before. None of this is revolutionary. This isn’t an argument for the demolition of LCSH. Nor the crowd-sourcing of organization. This is about idiosyncrasy and learning from other disciplines. I’ve used Nolayout to provide an illustration for using a mixture of poetics and information theory by way of Eco to show  how uncreative some organizational schemes are. But it is worth noting that if you actually look at the things being linked to, you can start to see the shape of the editorial policy that is obfuscated by the format, the argument that is made by a collection of PDFs, which is the story of hypertext writ large.

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Librarian as constructive destroyer.

Librarianship is getting to a new critical point. While there’s much to be said for the social-science, standards-based, technologically-driven, business-speak librarianship that is the bread-and-butter of the library blogosphere, more and more critical voices are starting to question the efficacy and usefulness behind its ethos. It’s time to be much more vocal. Start talking.

My proposal is that libraries enter the demolition business instead. We need to use the tools of reason and objectivity to tear down cultural biases, falsehoods, and misconceptions. We need to provide society with the tools to stand up to misinformation, disinformation, and deception. We need to blast a big-ass hole in the wall and let our patrons become educated and enlightened so they can stand up to whatever society throws at them. It’s that whole speaking truth to power, truth-shall-set-you-free thing that guided us through the liberalism of the 1960s.

-Sense and Reference

Why are we in such a hurry to embrace a clinical, digital future in which technologies become our gods instead of our tools? Why do we insist that the future lies in e-readers when census data indicate that, as of 2009, 43 million people lived in poverty?  Why do some academic librarians behave as if public librarians are brainless half-wits, and why do public librarians let them get away with it? Why on earth aren’t more of us unionized? Why does Seth Godin get to dictate what the future of the library should be? What the hell is going on in California, and why isn’t somebody doing something to protect the school librarians from hostile lawyers? Have we all collectively lost our professional minds?

-In the Library with the Lead Pipe

It’s time for us to stand up.  It’s time for us to take a stand!  If you are in leadership and you are not willing to be human enough to stand up, then now is the time for you to stand down.  There are so many voices in our profession that are worried about their “image” or “brand” that they are not willing to do anything but complain in private and off the record.  It is to you that I say that going silent, turning a blind eye or deaf ear is condoning the behavior.  It is your story that will be lost in history.  To those willing to stand; to those who have been standing for a long time, let us fill the world with our voice; let our story be heard.

-The Information Activist Librarian

In the end, I felt like the whole Library 2.0 thing was a distraction. So many libraries jumped on the bandwagon, creating “2.0 services” that were not carefully planned for, staffed or assessed. Now we see a vast 2.0 graveyard of abandoned blogs, wikis, Facebook pages and more. And, in the end, there was never really any agreement on what it all meant. I can’t really see anything good that came from that term or discussions about it. Now, instead of tons of articles, presentations and books about Library 2.0, we will see tons of articles, presentations and books about transliteracy. What real impact will it have on our patrons? How will it change the way we serve them? I feel like a cynical jerk sometimes, but I want to see results. I have no problems with theories as long as they can be applied to our work in some way. My own teaching has been influenced heavily by constructivist learning theory, but I’m not sure what transliterate library services or transliterate instruction looks like. And until someone can show me, I guess I’m going to be as cynical about that as I was about Library 2.0.

-Information Wants To Be Free

Purely as a persuasive advertisement for online degree programs, this stylized graphic supports for-profit LIS degree programs using misleading information to market potentially empty degrees to an already-flooded market. And that’s a problem. Clever word choice also skirts the issue of the greying profession. The ad states that “a large number of librarians are likely to retire in the coming decade.” The operative word here is decade. Ten years is a long time. Historically, it also takes a nation a long time to recover from prolonged recessions. So unless our government gets us out of the financial sewer we’re currently in, that large number of librarians may not be enjoying retirement until the second half of that decade.

-The Go Librarians

Where is the body of the librarian?

Have you been to a library lately? They look like TV salesrooms. (78)

The kind of poetry that belies mortality through the eternalities of hyperspace, through the Google search, is of no use. Poetry is not information. Information is a corpse. (165)

Before we became obligated to our minds, we were obligated to the world. Its bodies conception and celebration and morning. (11)

-Dean Young,The Art of Recklessness.

Here we are, dealers in corpses. Libraries stand accused of forgetting the world, not considering the art of life in our dealings with corpses of digital information, preserved in hypothetical bitstreams. Materiality, conversely looks more like a life lived and one worth living, although Young’s barb about looking like TV salesrooms still rings true. Still, we as librarians place the highest value on information and knowledge, all else comes second. The form of the library and the definition of the librarian both follow the functions we provide for the life of the mind, or so it seems. But in reality, the content we provide is tied directly to materiality, and librarianship is as well. In his book Mechanisms, Matthew Kirschenbaum lays the materiality of “hyperspace” bare:

Computers are unique in the history of writing technologies in that they present a premeditated material environment built and engineered to propagate an illusion of immateriality. (135, but the whole book, really.)

So much for information as corpse. That is an illusion that computers provide, and it is no one’s fault but our own for propping it up in our library-cum-salesrooms. There was a recent hoopla of Seth Godin’s call to arms for better marketing of libraries, and a number of responses called for the spending of money to follow. But that’s why our libraries look like the salesroom/mausoleums of information that continue to protect the immaterial illusion, and also why the profession puts that which is supposedly immaterial first. As Kirschenbaum fruitfully illustrates, the division between materiality and immateriality is fairly exaggerated. Libraries should choose life and stop pretending that the materiality and supposed lack thereof are concrete. Where are your bodies, librarians?

Libraries for no one.

Nobody wears a watch any more.

Nobody uses the library, at least nobody I know. Isn’t everything online these days? Libraries will survive, as Godin suggests, by providing our services to nobody. It sounds contrarian, but we need to make this work.  A little parable from the art world is illustrative (thanks to The Awl):

(Mierle) Ukeles had proposed a series of projects to the Wadsworth Atheneum, one of which was cleaning out a mummy case, and one of which was cleaning the galleries….

So she shows up on the appointed night to clean. The museum has closed. She has the keys and gets her mop and bucket and whatnot and she realizes… that there really is no one there. Not even the curator is there to see her show….

….And finally, after a while, some art handler comes downstairs from where he’d been up late, packing art or messing around or something….

And so this lone guy is watching her perform/work, following her around, while she’s getting down in the corners with a rag or whatever. This goes on for ages. I imagine this being just like Night at the Museum but extremely boring. Finally, the place is clean, and he bursts into applause….

Year later she runs into him at a party, and he’s Mike Kelley, now a famous artist, and he tells her it was the greatest thing ever.

Librarians, in physical or virtual realms spend a lot of time providing library service to “nobody”. The important part is how we address ourselves to these nobodies. By providing competent service, we guarantee ourselves continued support from year to year, which is fine. However, if we are interested in actual human beings, then we should focus not only on the breadth of our impact, but on its depth, as illustrated by Ukeles.

A denial!

So, information as thing?

Further, the term “evidence” implies passiveness. Evidence, like information-as-thing, does not do anything actively. Human beings do things with it or to it…The essence of evidence is precisely that perception of it can lead to changes in what people believe they know. (353)

This includes documents and events themselves, almost to the point that information as thing could include everything, but that it needs to be put into a specific context, such that “(a)t quite specific situations and points in time an object or event may actually be informative, i.e., constitute evidence that is used in a way that effects someone’s beliefs.” (357) As a result, information storage and retrieval systems can only deal with this conception of information, which is handy for legitimating information science, but in reality, it ignores the complexity of what information actually is. The drive to carve up the definition of information into its respective parts partially results in conceptual clarity, but it also results in the obfuscation of important details that lead to real-world understandings of those very things.

A case study:

Miley Cyrus v. Kurt Cobain

These are the same song, the metadata on these two videos, when viewed by a person, would be pretty similar. But what is at the heart of these things that makes them informative? Surely, the ads, Miley’s stage banter, Kurt Cobain messing around before they kick into it all matter. But what really separates these two, aside from video quality, is the fact that Miley is earnest in her delivery, striving to communicate the song’s aggression and libido. Kurt, on the other hand, doesn’t push as hard, delivering the contradiction and insouciance of it.

But some things that can be seen in the metadata could matter a lot outside of the Benjamin-esque consideration of “aura,” which, regardless is intact. I’m accusing Benjamin of being a spoilsport. The Miley video is probably some kind of camera-phone video, maybe a camcorder or a flip, whereas the Nirvana video was captured on some much higher quality film, and from the sound of it, the audio came off of the mixing boards. All of that is important to note for the reception by the person watching the video. Benjamin is a spoilsport because no matter what the formats of the “evidence,” no matter what the “information as thing” analysis, you can tell the difference between these two performances.

So don’t divvy up information. It’s oversimplifying, and you might miss something more important going on. Information and knowledge are about context, and reducing information to it’s thingness leads to Benjamin’s accusations of lack or aura resulting from technological reductionism.

Likewise, don’t ignore the thingness, because it directly affects the experience of the aura. Information is more complex than mere “evidence” and it always will have an affect on the perciever. It will help librarianship if we stop pretending that all of these things aren’t intimately related.