June 8, 2006

Your ignorance will not protect you.

K.G. Schneider at Free Range Librarian has this manifesto. Although I generally agree with the sentiments, that libraries and librarians must transform into something that may be unrecognizable, I do have some quibbles with individual ideas and with the overall tone. To paraphrase Walt, a bit too much “or” and not a lot of “and”:

All technologies evolve and die. Every technology you learned about in library school will be dead someday.

Well, I can go on the internet right now and buy a horse-drawn buggy if I want. Cars mostly replaced them, but not entirely. We have both cars and horses, cars and trains, cars and subways. Computers play chess better than humans do, but humans seem to refuse to just give up on chess. Technologies may have a much longer lifespan than we think they do. We have to move forward, yes, and embrace the new. But it’s also a mistake to assume a technology is dead just because it isn’t cool anymore. My mom has a vcr but no dvd player. If I assume that vcr’s are dead, it seems I might be failing in my mission to serve a diverse user group.

You fear loss of control, but that has already happened. Ride the wave.
Good point. Change happens whether we want it to or not.

You are not a format. You are a service.
Actually, I'm a 43-year-old man who also happens to be a librarian. Libraries provide collections and services, and collections are usually in some sort of format. If I intend to continue to provide collections, I have to be conscious of what formats are available, how demand of different formats are shifting and to make sure I allocate the limited resources I have to the appropriate collections. If I don't intend to continue to provide collections along with my services, I'm not sure if I still work at a library. I am not just eBay pr amazon for students, I am part of an educational mission which I take seriously. Are wikis & blogs services or collections? Maybe they're collections that have formats. Hmmm.

The OPAC is not the sun. The OPAC is at best a distant planet, every year moving farther from the orbit of its solar system.

The user is the sun.
These two are a little weird. I thought Google was the sun. Or was that Facebook. Or YouTube or MySpace. Back when I was a software developer, we used to joke ironically that our systems would work just fine if it weren't for those darn users messing things up with their inconvenient demands. Libraries are the same way. OPACs are discovery tools, the ones we're mostly stuck with are a far cry from what Amazon or eBay have to offer their users, but on the other hand they have slightly bigger development budgets than most libraries do. Since one of the things we provide is collections, the collections discovery tool is going to tend to be important to us. Even if it sucks, we have to figure out how to make the best of it.

The user is the magic element that transforms librarianship from a gatekeeping trade to a services profession.
Haven't libraries always had users? Oh yeah, we used to call them patrons.

The user is not broken.
Amen. Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be. On the other hand, using a word like "broken" implies something a little unhealthy. Users aren't broken, but they also don't have complete knowledge of the information universe. Neither do we, but part of our mission to make their knowledge of the information universe a little more complete. I think it's called information literacy.

Your system is broken until proven otherwise.
I prefer to think of it as a work in progress. Calling it broken seems a little harsh to me. Libraries and librarians work very hard to make their systems better and more accessible, working with extremely limited resources (we have basically one web programmer for the library for a school with 40K students) and with severe restrictions (millions of MARC records, a system we're stuck with that is too expensive to replace).

That vendor who just sold you the million-dollar system because "librarians need to help people" doesn't have a clue what he's talking about, and his system is broken, too.
Amen. Blame the vendors, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Most of your most passionate users will never meet you face to face.

Most of your most alienated users will never meet you face to face.
Amen. I agree completely and have written about how important this challenge is before.

The most significant help you can provide your users is to add value and meaning to the information experience, wherever it happens; defend their right to read; and then get out of the way.
But I thought the users were unbroken sunshine, but here it seems that I can actually try to have an influence on them, as long as I'm not in their way. Believe it or not, I actually helped someone F2F yesterday and may actually do so again today.

Your website is your ambassador to tomorrow's taxpayers. They will meet the website long before they see your building, your physical resources, or your people.
Yep. But I think we should also pay some attention to our building, physical resources and people.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to find a library website that is usable and friendly and provides services rather than talking about them in weird library jargon.
A bit harsh, I think. I don't hate myself enough to believe that we as a profession aren't at least trying to make our systems better. Oh yeah, I blame the vendors.

Information flows down the path of least resistance. If you block a tool the users want, users will go elsewhere to find it.
One word. Google Scholar. That's two words.

You cannot change the user, but you can transform the user experience to meet the user.
This gets back to IL. I really do think that my users can learn something from me. I'm doing an IL session later today, and if I truly believed this item, I wouldn't bother trying to help students to understand the scholarly communications processes in their disciplines. Making our systems better so they can navigate those scholarly communications processes better, sure. Helping them to understand how to use Google in conjunction with, say, INSPEC or that they might also want to take a look at some journals? That's part of my role too.

Meet people where they are--not where you want them to be.
This one keeps coming up with different wording. Enough. We get it.

The user is not "remote." You, the librarian, are remote, and it is your job to close that gap.
What does remore mean. I think this is essentially the same as "Meet people where they are--not where you want them to be."

The average library decision about implementing new technologies takes longer than the average life cycle for new technologies.

If you are reading about it in Time and Newsweek and your library isn't adapted for it or offering it, you're behind.

Stop moaning about the good old days. The card catalog sucked, and you thought so at the time, too.
Just wait until you're a little older. Kids today. But seriously, doesn't this overstate the case a bit? I'm not sure I've ever met any librarian who prefered the card catalogue to the online.

If we continue fetishizing the format and ignoring the user, we will be tomorrow's cobblers.
Actually, there's shoe repair place right across the street from my house and he seems to be doing just fine. Things that aren't "new new new" don't conveniently just disappear just because we don't think they're cool anymore. What is really being fetishized here.

We have wonderful third spaces that offer our users a place where they can think and dream and experience information. Is your library a place where people can dream?
A good chunk the students in the library at any given time are sleeping in the soft chairs.

Your ignorance will not protect you.
Neither will my blind adherence to some technofetishistic orthodoxy. Like many of these points, I think this is a bit harsh, implying that librarians don't care about their users, are afraid of their shadows, are not trying to do their best given limited resources.


Ken said...

From Wikipedia on Informatics:

> Must be me...Information Science--Informatics are not et al


> Definitions of informatics


> Because of the rapidly evolving, interdisciplinary nature of

> informatics, a precise meaning of the term "informatics" is presently

> difficult to pin down. Regional differences and international

> terminology complicate the problem. Some people note that much of what

> is called "Informatics" today was once called "Information Science" at

> least in fields such as Medical Informatics. However when Library

> scientists began to also use the phrase "Information Science" to refer

> to their work, the term informatics emerged as a response by Computer

> Scientists to distiguish their work from that of Library Science.

My Comments:
I sit on the fence between the Computer Science folks and the Library Science folks and can see equal importance both ways. I happen to come at this subject from both sides of the fence so it seems very bizarre that my left brain is in contention to make itself distinct from my right brain. Too many times folks try to make themselves distinct at the price of what they could share between each other. Instead they'd rather be unique to the point of being an island unto themselves but would enjoy a much richer product or experience if they got over it.

A friend of mine [a librarian] said "I was in the period when reference librarians became information scientists. I'm not sure it is the correct term to use anymore. The whole profession is in a confused state right now. The need to establish order (indexing, metadata, whatever) is still needed. It's just electronic now.

And since they are REALLY experienced at pulling data out of a system, they

should be involved in the design of a system. That is, being the "test

engineers" or QC people. IT guys don't do that enough. They QC their own

work, and that makes the product weak."

I remember when the Internet enabled folks who had some sort of topical affinity to express--to express it without much technical know-how. Folks like me became web techies and helped folks who were less technical than most. Then somewhere around 1995 the programmers said "hey, this is our thing isn't it?" thus taking credit or responisbility for the Internet.

Seems to me that the pure Comp Sci [side of the fence] folks are being overly opportunistic and seem insecure.

John Dupuis said...

Ken, thanks for the comment. I also sit on the CS/librarian fence, but I've never really seen it as a brain-sidedness issue. I like your idea about opportunism and insecurity, though -- a idea well worth thinking about in any context where balance is hard to find.