Theory

The so-called Darien Statement bothers me...

The so-called Darien Statement can be found at http://www.blyberg.net/2009/04/03/the-darien-statements-on-the-library-and-librarians/. I'm going to express a few of my thoughts here. There are some areas where the statement bothers me.

The statement is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. The statement of responsibility indicated in the relevant blog post indicates that John Blyberg, Kathryn Greenhill, and Cindi Trainor came up with this. I'm going to restate some of it here. I will attempt to interleave replies.

Purpose

"The purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization."

How does that square with enabling legislation in most cases? Public libraries are public institutions and normally are creatures of statute. Libraries can only do what is authorized by statute. I imagine that the integrity of civilization is not something allocated as a responsibility of libraries in enabling legislation.

"The Library has a moral obligation to adhere to its purpose despite social, economic, environmental, or political influences. The purpose of the Library will never change."

History has shown instead that the purpose of the library has in fact changed. With the rise of "third space" theory and more, libraries have shifted in focus from being only storehouses to additionally being commons.

"The Library is infinite in its capacity to contain, connect and disseminate knowledge; librarians are human and ephemeral, therefore we must work together to ensure the Library’s permanence."

How this can be read depends upon your definition of "The Library". As for that definition, there seem to be multiple possibilities.

"Individual libraries serve the mission of their parent institution or governing body, but the purpose of the Library overrides that mission when the two come into conflict."

That cannot happen in a public institution. Insubordination is a firing offense in most government bureaucracies and librarians generally do not have tenure protections that might insulate them in these cases. There are normally only two choices when faced with instructions you cannot follow: resign or comply.

"Why we do things will not change, but how we do them will."

Over time, the "why" does change. LCSH was arbitrary until Lois May Chan was contracted to study its systemization. We still assign subject headings, but the reasons underlying those headings and our choices are different now compared to thirty years ago.

"A clear understanding of the Library’s purpose, its role, and the role of librarians is essential to the preservation of the Library."

I would think effective public communication would be more essential as the Nebraska video game case showed. If people had communicated, that whole mess would likely not have happened. Without keeping lines of communications open, taxpayers and those who oversee libraries are likely not to care about the library's role and instead prefer to cut budgets for better favored pet projects.

There is more to the statement but I won't address that at this time. In the end, it reflects a view of professional practice I've rarely encountered. What the statement aspires to seems to not be the norm in the US.

The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians

On March 26th, Darien Library hosted an event called “In the Foothills: A Not-Quite-Summit on the Future of Libraries” at which participants were instructed to “come prepared to help sketch out the role librarians should play in defining the future of libraries”. The two speakers, John Berry and Kathryn Greenhill, provoked a conversation among me, Kathryn and Cindi Trainor that began in my office the next day and spilled out across the ensuing week.

Kathryn and Cindi have beautifully captured the spirit in which this was written.

Here is the resulting document (CC License). It’s meant to be grand, optimistic, obvious, and thankful to and for our users, communities, and the tireless librarians who work the front lines every day, upholding the purpose of the Library.

The search for the next big thing

For those unfamiliar with the library field, librarians have a strange relationship with technology. On one hand, the library field has been quick to follow new trends of audio and video technologies. Even as we speak, my library is moving towards Blu Ray and expanding web based technologies such as eBooks and downloadable content such as movies and mp3s. We are working on bringing the library and the patron closer together through the internet with an online calendar, databases, and other remotely accessed sources.

On the other hand, it wasn't long ago that libraries were playing catchup to one of the biggest technologies, the internet. When the internet was emerging as a means for global communication, the majority of libraries balked at the addition of computers. Books, it was said at the time, was the main mission of the library. The internet was something that fell outside of that mission. Eventually, obviously, the massive amount of information exchange was too much to ignore. The internet rewrote the mission of the library in terms of the mediums that it could be expressed in. Combined with the linking of broadband communication networks and global information resources, literally a world of knowledge was brought to the simplest library setup. -- Read More

At ACRL, One Librarian Looks to the Very, Very, Distant Future

In a session at last weekend's Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference billed as “not for the faint of heart,” University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada) librarian and chief information officer Michael Ridley challenged librarians to imagine the library of the future—the very, very distant future.

In a talk that had Star Trek fans among the audience brimming with enthusiasm, Ridley spoke of a “post-literate” future in which man and machine meld seamlessly together. Ridley got right to the point. “What we do is toast,” he told the audience. “Are reading and writing doomed? The answer is an unequivocal yes.”

Ridley entertained his audience with a James Cameron-like vision of the future, where borgs, bio-computing, advances in brain research, the “hive mind,” and advances in pharmacology would one day—although not one day soon—undo the need to read, write, manage, or organize information as we now know it. Want to learn French? One day you will just take a pill, he suggested.

Full article here.

How More Info Leads to Less Knowledge

Clive Thompson on How More Info Leads to Less Knowledge:

We need to fashion information tools that are designed to combat agnotological rot. Like Wikipedia: It encourages users to build real knowledge through consensus, and the result manages to (mostly) satisfy even people who hate each other's guts. Because the most important thing these days might just be knowing what we know.

LISTen and Hyperlinked History by The Faceless Historian

While Stephen deals with the stress of moving, he asked that I fill in for him for a special episode of LISTen - The LISNews Podcast. As my alter-ego, The Faceless Historian, I'll take you on a journey through history back to the distant past and the origins of the DRM and copying controversies we deal with today.

Stephen and the regular LISTen gang will be back next week with your regularly scheduled podcast. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy something a little different about something related to issues we face in libraries today.

If you're in the mood for more of my historical meanderings, you can catch my podcast (Hyperlinked History) on iTunes or via the Hyperlinked History website.

27:45 minutes (8 MB)
mp3
[audio-player]

LibraryThing Calls for New Cataloguing Scheme

With all the talk of Dewey or Don't We...

Gawd I'm getting tired of that phrase.

Anyway, with all the talk of whether or not libraries should use DDC, LCCN, BISAC, or something else for their collections and then the possibility of using open databases instead of OCLC, it seems like cataloguing is on everybody's mind.

It is over at LibraryThing too, where they've issued a call for the creation of OSC, or the Open Shelves Classification. They're looking for a few librarians who are of a mind to create a system that's free, "humble," modern, open source, and crowd sourced. Indeed, they want something that the library profession has needed for a long time - a modern system capable of changing, and changing easily.

So if you're of the cataloguing bent, check it out.

Eric Lease Morgan’s Top Tech Trends for ALA Mid-Winter, 2009

Eric Lease Morgan’s Top Tech Trends for ALA Mid-Winter, 2009:
Indexing with Solr/Lucene works well
Linked data is a new name for the Semantic Web
Blogging is peaking
Word/tag clouds abound
“Next Generation” library catalogs seem to be defined
And several more...

Finally, regarding change. It manifests itself along a continuum. At one end is evolution. Slow. Many false starts. Incremental. At the other end is revolution. Fast. Violent. Decisive. Institutions and their behaviors change slowly. Otherwise they wouldn’t be the same institutions. Librarianship is an institution. Its behavior changes slowly. This is to be expected.

The Time of the Book

Well, it's had a good long run, nearly 600 years. But...is it the 'end of the book'?

Here's an opinion piece by Tom Engelhardt in the LA Times. He has worked in publishing for more than three decades and is currently the editor of TomDispatch.com, where a longer version of this article is published.

From the article:
Worlds shudder and collapse all the time. There's no news in that. Just ask the Assyrians, the last emperor of the Han Dynasty, the final Romanoff or Napoleon -- or Bernard Madoff. But when it seems to be happening to your world, well, that's a different kettle of fish.

Two weeks ago, a close friend in my niche world of book publishing (at whose edge I've been perched these last 30-odd years) called to tell me that an editor we both admire had been perp-walked out of his office and summarily dismissed by the publisher he worked for. That's what now passes for politeness in the once "gentlemanly" world of books.

His fault, the sap, was acquiring and editing good books. The sort of books that might actually make a modest difference in the universe but will be read by no less modest audiences -- too modest for flailing, failing publishing conglomerates.

Saving the Story at MIT

Article in the NY Times about research into how (motion picture) stories have been told, are being told and will be told in the future.

In league with a handful of former Hollywood executives, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory plans to do something about that on Tuesday, with the creation of a new Center for Future Storytelling.

The center is envisioned as a “labette,” a little laboratory, that will examine whether the old way of telling stories — particularly those delivered to the millions on screen, with a beginning, a middle and an end — is in serious trouble.

Press release from MIT includes the philosophy of the project: "Storytelling is at the very root of what makes us uniquely human," said Frank Moss, Media Lab director and holder of the Jerome Wiesner Professorship of Media Arts and Sciences. "It is how we share our experiences, learn from our past, and imagine our future. But how we tell our stories depends on another uniquely human characteristic -- our ability to invent and harness technology. From the printing press to the Internet, technology has given people new ways to tell their stories, allowing them to reach new levels of creativity and personal fulfillment. The shared vision of the MIT Media Lab and Plymouth Rock Studios allows us to take the next quantum leap in storytelling, empowering ordinary people to connect in extraordinary ways."

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