Thursday, March 25, 2010

RE: [NGC4LIB] Observations of a Librarian on Ebook Readers

Posting to NGC4LIB

Laval Hunsucker wrote:
[Concerning my statement that librarians are definitely needed in this new world--JW]

It is, rather, our little illusion, kind of a last straw in these latter days. And one that's been vociferously clung onto even by some of our best "LIS" thinkers.

What I *did* once find kind of fun was trying to work out what sort of arrangements / logistics / formal structures would be required to make a viable operational reality of this particular "future for librarians", once the rest was gone -- for a lecture I gave at a meeting of library subject specialists in this country back around twelve or thirteen years ago. Since that time, though, I've lost the feeling that it's really even worth that effort.

You use the term "needed" ( "definitely needed now" ; "definitely be needed in the future" ), but I'd say that's again just looking at the world from our point of view, not from that of this professor you mention and all the others we call "patrons". And let's be very clear : it's *their* points of view that really matter.

This is a point that I did not make clear enough in my original message, where I wrote: "... it must be made very clear to the "experts" that finding relevant information is a different task from specializing in a subject." To illustrate this, I'll compare it to someone driving a car. You may be just a regular person driving the car, or you may be Michael Schumacher, but whoever you are, before you can do anything, you need a car maker, a mechanic for the car, and a map to know where you are going. Certainly, you can get into any old car and drive around randomly, but while that may be exciting for a time and you discover some things you've never seen before, it's hard to say that it represents progress if you want to get from, let's say, Oslo to Rome. You can't do it all alone.

Comparing this to the library-information situation, we are the mechanics and the map makers. But as mechanics, we should not concentrate our skills on making buggies for horses, and this is where the car makers come in, to design new means of transportation for people. But first, we need to know where people are going and living. I don't think the mechanics should determine this, but it much more the job of the map makers.

I don't want to push this analogy too far, but basically, it shows where I think we should be going. We are building tools based on FRBR, but to me, the structure of FRBR is the same as that "Horsey Horseless Carriage",28804,1658545_1657686,00.html. FRBR/RDA is like a car designed by the mechanic (or in this case, the buggy maker), and we don't even know if it is what people want.

We need to move on. But it is only in this way that we can demonstrate our importance to our users.

Everything points, for me, to the conclusion that what's going to *work* (as opposed to what, in our discours, will "be needed") is not librarians but better ( expert ) end-user systems. My experience is that the persons who come up with such systems that are really effective are mostly not librarians -- and they do that, I believe, precisely because they don't think as librarians have for the last fifty years or so been socialized, and are still being socialized, to think. ( As I implicitly argued in a published article [ in Dutch ] some five years ago. )

I agree to a point, but why can't the librarian be an integral part of the expert end-user system? Your experience that people who come up with effective systems are not librarians is different from my experience. I have been to several meetings where the "information managers" were demonstrating their systems, and they put in a query to the database, e.g. "milk" and all they got was "cheese." They concluded that this was a good, useful result because cheese is made from milk(?!). They just don't understand that when someone searches for "milk" they want "milk" and not cheese and butter and yogurt and all other dairy goods.

I can state definitively that extremely few people understand a Google result: i.e. why something comes up as #1 and how results can--and are--being manipulated for all kinds of purposes. In this regard, I remember a story from a couple of years ago about how a major U.S. medical database put the word "abortion" on their stop word list.

Who discovered that? A librarian. And it was fixed only because the librarian had the energy and courage to speak up. Read the article for the reasoning of the database manager. It's quite enlightening concerning the differences in values and the entire mental construct of the "information manager" opposed to the librarian.

I know that it is difficult to stay optimistic in these times. Perhaps I live in a fairy land, but I still believe that the skills and ethics of librarians are, and will be, of tremendous benefit. We may be fated to fade away, but that would be a definite harm to society, since the knowledge, skills and ethics of librarians exist nowhere else. So, if we are indeed, doomed to oblivion, it doesn't mean that we have to go meekly, but we can decide to go down only after putting up the very best fight we possibly can.

Because it is only when you struggle and decide to put up a fight that you have even the slightest chance of winning.

It's too soon to give up.

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