Monday, January 11, 2010

FW: interesting...

Emails discussing the sites:


Those were interesting. Have you seen How College Students Seek Information in the Digital Age. Very interesting, but frightening since it follows my own experiences.

Our users are normal human beings with all of their foibles: most want to get a job done with the least amount of work they can get away with. Therefore, people prefer concise, "reliable" results that they can use and go on to something else. Occasionally, very occasionally, someone comes who genuinely wants to learn. What was saddest to me from what you sent was the response to library "quality" and almost nobody citing it as a place to learn…. Wow. It is one place you can meet the greatest minds in history, spend time with them, but it is not a place to learn. For me, that is a huge generational change since that was exactly what a library was.

But I guess that was back in the days when there was still respect for "self-education," as being a finer thing that sitting silently in a classroom bored to death, with the alpha wave screaming out of everybody's brains. Today, education is something you pay for, and in return, if you make your teachers and instructors happy enough, you will get a degree, which is the equivalent of a union card today. But a union card meant that a plumber was a decent plumber, or a mechanic knew what he was doing. Today, people get degrees who can't write five words coherently, and while they may have some knowledge of a subject, they often have almost no understanding of it. And let's not even get into the subject of "drawing logical conclusions!" But they have their degree and can go on to graduate school, get their PhD and teach somewhere.

Once in awhile though, someone may surprise you. Most of what I learned of value, I learned on my own. Most of what you learn in school ends up a crock sooner or later, just like most of what I learned about the Soviet Union (my topic) turned out wrong, and now everybody is rethinking modern capitalist economics. So, if you got a degree in economics in 2003, what does that mean you know today? You've got to start all over from scratch.

I've been toying with an idea for a long time now that we are actually living in a "Dark Age," just like back then, where there were accepted truths you can't question, there were authorized experts who had to be quoted, and so on. How would someone know if they were living in a Dark Age? I am sure that if you asked those people back then that their minds were closed, they would have laughed you out of the place. But when I see the power of the media, of political correctness, how people in the U.S. rarely want to discuss politics because it might be disruptive, and find it really open over here, it's been very interesting. (Italy has its problems too!)

I got this idea around 15 years ago, and it is only in the last 5 or so years that I am beginning to understand more precisely how it is happening. And what to do about it. I think librarians could be very important in this scenario, but we can be just as caught up in it as anybody else. Whether the catalog can survive, or even a separate entity as the library, I don't know, but I think (and hope!) that people will want and need librarians' values and ethical positions.


Further response:

That’s a very interesting thought Jim. I tend to think its always been like this (think Socrates in Greece) although in some ages its worse.
You’re right, but one place that we can’t forget about is Renaissance Florence. (My wife and I went there over the holidays for a couple of days. Fabulously beautiful place. It’s amazing to me that practically all of the Renaissance happened in such a tiny town. Great food and wine, by the way!) Anyway, their minds were really free for a time, compared to what they had before (and what we have now in many ways). Of course, it made lots of people angry, as Giordano Bruno and Galileo discovered. The late 19th-early 20th century was pretty free as well. It just seems to me that we are on the cusp of something happening. Everybody’s mad at everybody else; people are waiting for something. I just hope it’s good and/or great.
I have mixed feelings about the cataloging stations… still, one can’t not notice how the only thing left of value here seems to be the materials themselves and the metadata that helps people find, explore and acquire them…
I think so too. But we must adapt to this new world that is coming very fast. That’s why I get nervous when a library gets linked to a physical locality or to a specific physical collection, no matter how great it happens to be. It seems to me that this would be similar to the mammals betting everything they had on the dinosaurs after the weather started getting cold instead of seeing the changes around them. For those librarians who are ready and willing to adapt to the new environment, they can—of this I have no doubt. I just don’t know if our physical collections can adapt as well. More and more, people want the information inside the book, and on their own terms and in different formats, but less and less do they want the book itself. Sad, because I am a bookman, but it’s the way of the world.


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