Theory

Is There a Schism in Libraries?

Traditionalists v. Modernisers? From Times Online UK:

"Libraries gave us power”, the first line of the Manic Street Preachers’ Design for Life, powerfully articulates the value of a great utilitarian civic service. The lyricist Nicky Wire was prompted to write the song after a trip to the Victorian branch library in Pillgwenlly, Newport, where the phrase “Knowledge is power” sits above the door. Now, by way of a symbolic gesture to the march of progress, they adorn Cardiff’s new £15 million six-storey glass-and-concrete central library, which opened last summer complete with a white baby-grand piano and a Wagamama outlet.

The recently released Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) review ring-fenced the Libraries Act 1964, effectively preserving libraries as a cornerstone of our culture. However, its talk of free e-books, social networking use, community diversity and commercial links has fuelled a fierce debate about the purpose of a library in the modern age.

Talk to both sides and there is a clear schism between traditionalists and modernisers. For one it is about books and silence, for the other it’s about community usage, Facebook and cups of coffee or, in the words of Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate and now the chairman of the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, “shhh and fining or Starbucks and PCs”.

Thanks to Trevor Dawes for the tip.

Web Illiteracy: How Much Is Your Fault?

Web Illiteracy: How Much Is Your Fault?
These are ways of writing which bring about undesired consequences, and yet bloggers and other members of the technological elite use them all the time. Is this part of the new illiteracy? The funny thing about the patterns in these misunderstandings is that they predate the Web. Newspapers receive misdirected mail for celebrities. Scientists receive email from people who want help registering a patent. ...The Internet simply makes this kind of confusion more obvious to the rest of us.

What should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age?

Seth Godin wonders What should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age? His proposal: train people to take intellectual initiative.

Once again, the net turns things upside down. The information is free now. No need to pool tax money to buy reference books. What we need to spend the money on are leaders, sherpas and teachers who will push everyone from kids to seniors to get very aggressive in finding and using information and in connecting with and leading others.

Understanding Open Access Through A Concept Map

Open Access Concept Map
Laura Briggs says "I originally created an open access concept map so that I could develop a better understanding of open access. It's a living document so feel free to send me any references or concepts that you think are missing. Send me your open access concept map and I'll post it here!"

What Will Make Your Patrons Abandon Your Library?

Seth Godin: It's not the rats you need to worry about

"Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It's the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It's over."

Who are the heavy users in your library? Can you see anything on the horizon that's going to cause your best customers abandon your library?

Alternative futures for the Public Library Network in NSW in 2030

Alternative futures for the Public Library Network in NSW in 2030 [PDF]:
The project has been remarkable in that over 150 public and State Library staff at all levels, across a
range of ages, have participated in the workshops and interviews that have shaped the timelines, scenarios
and suggested responses.
This engaging document provides a framework for the NSW public library network to monitor trends
and developments in society that will inevitably have an impact on our future services and customers.

Wikipedia's facts-about-facts make the impossible real

Wikipedia's facts-about-facts make the impossible real
Here's the thing about expertise: it's hard to define. It may be possible for a small group of relatively homogenous people to agree on who is and isn't an expert, but getting millions of people to do so is practically impossible. The Britannica uses a learned editorial board to decide who will write its entries and who will review them.

Climate change for libraries

Climate change for libraries:
"Everywhere now in our professional literature we see the challenges of our work represented by the imagery of flow and fluidity. We try to scope and identify workflows that are changing or need to change. The platform of the web dips and peaks faster and differently than we can predict, and as it does so content suddenly flows in different directions, taking new channels. Stability in this environment is rare, and a relief when we find it, even though it may lie in places that librarians take some time to trust - like Google and Wikipedia."

How our brains learned to read

How our brains learned to read
The brain in its modern form is about 200,000 years old, yet brain imaging shows reading taking place in the same way and in the same place in all brains. To within a few millimetres, human brains share a reading hotspot - what Stanislas Dehaene calls the "letterbox" - on the bottom of the left hemisphere.
(From a review of Reading in the Brain: The science and evolution of a human invention by Stanislas Dehaene)
Thanks Ender!

Theory and Practice in the Library Workplace

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

Every so often I hear someone remark that they didn't learn anything in library school; that their real professional learning happened on the job, or worse, that they think that the need for a library qualification is just gate keeping and protectionism. This always causes me some concern because it ignores the important role that library and information science theory plays in the workplace.

It is true that when you start working in a library there is a wealth of on-the-job learning to do. There are process and practical skills to master, and local policies and procedures to absorb. The daily improvement as we gain hands-on experience brings an immediate sense of achievement and an obvious increase in knowledge. The relevance of this behavioral learning is clear because it is needed to do the job. In contrast, knowledge of theory and principles is about understanding why we are doing the procedure. This understanding is important when making decisions to change local policy or practices, or in deciding how to adjust local practices in response to the impact of external factors.

Practical processes and procedures are there to help the library achieve its goals. The theory of libraries (or cataloging, reference, etc) is what is taught (and hopefully learned) in the process of gaining a professional library qualification. And in turn, that theory informs the daily procedures and practices. Furthermore, this library school learning gives library professionals a shared theoretical basis and often a shared value system, on which to make decisions in the workplace; decisions about what the policies will be, and what practices are most appropriate for helping a library achieve its purpose.

Of course, such knowledge is not set in stone. Over time, the theories and principles will change as the professional body of knowledge changes to incorporate new understandings of the library and information world.

In for-profit organizations practical measure usually exist to judge performance. Did more widgets get sold? Are widgets being produced more cheaply? Did the company make more money as a result? The bottom line is more complex however, in not-for-profit organizations like libraries. How do we know that the library is achieving its purpose? More people through the door? More books issued? More information literacy classes taught? Such quantitative measures are useful but they seldom express the real value libraries contribute to their communities. And because there is not a clearly agreed, black and white measure of the bottom line for libraries, many staff make assumptions based on their own value system. That is, they may assume that the purpose of their work is defined in terms of their value systems.


Changes in processes, policy or practice can be particularly difficult for those who are comfortable with their daily routines and who are working hard in the belief that their actions are contributing to the greater good of the library. Principles, theories and values can be difficult to articulate because they are often deep-seated, intuitively known and taken for granted. As a consequence, some people may be protective of a given activity because it is representative of their values and beliefs about libraries. A threat to an activity becomes a threat to their values. Resistance or obstruction to change can easily result if those affected belief that a proposed change is going to have a negative impact on their library's core purpose.

Library managers, or those leading change (even at the process level) may find it helps to take time to explore the commonly held beliefs and assumptions of their staff. Consider whether they are disagreeing with how things should be done, or if the conflict is at a more fundamental level. Do participants have differing theoretical perspectives on what sort of action adds value to the library's community?

This is important because changing beliefs and value systems is a far more challenging proposition than changing daily routines. Yet all too often in libraries the focus is on the more tangible behavioral learning rather than on the intangible theory that underlies practice. Of course, it makes sense on a day-to-day basis to focus staff training on how things should be done, but when a significant change is needed, time needs to be given to talking about why the change is being made and how it fits into the theory and principles of libraries and librarianship.

It seems that this kind of talk is not that common in libraries. Perhaps there is a tendency to assume that we are all working from the same set of core principles and theories, because most of us are as a result of our library school learning. But problems arise when time or external changes make some of our theories obsolete or irrelevant.

In recent years libraries have faced a constant stream of change. Changes are occurring not just at the operational level (think of the impact of the Internet, the web or Google on our local practices); there has also been a paradigm shift in how libraries are perceived. For example, these days libraries are often seen as social spaces with a focus on customer needs, rather than the quiet, scholarly environments of the 20th Century. However, there is no doubt in my mind that this shift in thinking is not universally accepted. The rate and extent of change means that we should not assume that there is a shared understanding of the principles on which our practices and polices are based.

Talking about theory and principles may seem abstract, 'wishy-washy' and unnecessarily time-consuming to practically-oriented library staff who just want to get on with the task at hand. But without such discussions conflict and resentment over change can endure longer than necessary. Taking time to dwell in the theoretical area could serve to bring staff together with a better understanding of the value of library activities and services. It may also be that some people will discover that what they know is as important as what they do and this link between theory and practice means that their professional education was not a waste of time.

###

Vye Perrone is Associate University Librarian, Collection Services at the University of Waikato Library in New Zealand. She was President of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) in 2007/2008 and has just finished her year as Immediate Past President. Vye completed her MLIS from Victoria University of Wellington in 1998.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. -- Read More

Syndicate content