March 14, 2009

Here & There

A pretty amazing day or two around the blogosphere, with a few posts really worth your attention:

  • Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable by Clay Shirky
    Journalism has always been subsidized. Sometimes it’s been Wal-Mart and the kid with the bike. Sometimes it’s been Richard Mellon Scaife. Increasingly, it’s you and me, donating our time. The list of models that are obviously working today, like Consumer Reports and NPR, like ProPublica and WikiLeaks, can’t be expanded to cover any general case, but then nothing is going to cover the general case.

    Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

    Some of the best commentary on what's going on in the news business is coming from Clay Shirky. I really like him because he doesn't get into the whole "I think old media is deader than you think old media is" posturing of so many "new media gurus" but rather looks carefully and objectively at what's happening.

  • It’s not all about the tech - why 2.0 tech fails by Meredith Farkas
    If it’s something that’s failing because staff aren’t contributing to it, you need to try to understand what’s behind their resistance. Make sure you’ve done all you can to secure buy-in. Are staff comfortable with the technology? Are they not being given time to add content? Did you offer trainings on it? Are there any technology barriers that you can bring down — make it easier to post, make the wiki/blog/etc. the homepage on their computer, even post things for people to get them started, etc.? But honestly, if most staff members don’t recognize that there’s a need for a library wiki or library blog or whatever in the first place, or the project isn’t strongly supported by administration, it’s not going to be a good fit for your library.

    Clear-eyed, practical advice. We all have dead 2.0 projects littering the landscape and this post helps us understand why. We should all be so addled. Ricard Akerman continues the conversation.

  • Revisiting potential research-support roles for the library by Richard Akerman
    Where I think things are possible is on the smaller scale, building and integrating advanced discovery and integration with researcher workflows piece-by-piece. (This shouldn't be read as "build all" - integrating includes e.g. helping researchers integrate Connotea, Zotero, etc. into their workflows.) Many researchers are not that web-aware beyond Google searching - there are all kinds of tools that they could use. The library has a role in providing information about those tools. In the near term, there are some very quick wins just providing better discovery and information management tools, most of which are already available for free on the web. In the medium term, there are intriguing possibilities to support researchers with Virtual Research Environments. And in the long term, true semantic discovery may be possible, with very advanced computational and visualisation tools supporting very sophisticated computer- and data-driven science.

    Some interesting ideas, if a little challenging to carry through on. Peter Murray Rust continues the conversation and gives a bit of insight on the challenges libraries face carrying through.

  • On science and selfishness
    When it comes to scientists, you don't just have to hand them a sharper saw, you have to force them to stop sawing long enough to change to the new tool. All they know is that the damn tree has to come down on time and they will be in terrible trouble (/fail to be recognized for their genius) if it doesn't.

    I suspect the phenomenon that Bill refers to really applies far beyond just academic scientists but to all academics, students and even the general public. For most people, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it doesn't solve a pressing need faster and better, then it's too much trouble. Bill and others continue the conversation.

If there's a thread that goes through all these items is that change is hard to predict. That humans alternatively embrace and resist it in strangely (un)predictable ways. The future is hard to guess and even harder to shape. But, doing nothing and waiting for the change that the future brings just isn't an option. You'll be overwhelmed and snowed under. You have to keep moving, keeping learning and keep trying stuff, even if it doesn't seem to work.

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