Monday, May 3, 2010

RE: If Academic Libraries Remove Computers, Will Anyone Come?

Posting to NGC4LIB

Laval Hunsucker wrote:

The point seems to be that you don't grasp, or perhaps choose not to acknowledge, the difference between information ( the process, or perhaps even result, of being informed -- a phenomenological/cognitive matter, the difference between a prior and a subsequent state of understanding in a given human mind, or in Bateson's terms "the difference that makes a difference" ) and what you're now calling "materials" : what I called "documents". This is in fact a large and ( pragmatically as well as philosophically ) significant distinction.

The former cannot be organized for anybody else by librarians, or by whosoever. The latter can, obviously, be organized for ( access by ) other parties. This is what librarians have been doing, and doing fairly well, since at least the time of Ashurbanipal.

It only, at best, muddies the waters -- while fatuously bolstering our ego's, I suppose, and that seems sadly in fact to be the purpose -- to say, in organizing materials (documents) and/or their surrogates and metadata etc., that we are in the process of "organizing information". Quite absurd. If you, as did Daniel, carefully consider the term "hypostatization", you may better come to see what kind of manoeuvre is involved here. It was no accident that I chose to use exactly that word in my response to your previous post.

I hesitate replying to this since the topic is rather arcane, but I simply cannot accept the idea that librarians do not organize information.

I believe I understand what you are saying, it is just that I disagree with it. I don't believe I am committing any fallacy here (I may have committed fallacies elsewhere, but not here!) The basic question is to determine "what is information?" While I agree that on some level there are feelings and ideas that necessarily must remain only inside people's heads, they nevertheless must be shared with others to be considered as *information*. After all, "information" comes from "inform" which strongly implies sharing of some sort from one person to another.

If there is no sharing of this "stuff that necessarily must be inside the heads of others," and you are left entirely with the "stuff inside your own head," that to me, is precisely the definition of superstition and bias. It is the very antithesis of information. Many people may believe that they have their own unshakeable "information" within their own minds about other ethnic groups for example, but of course that is not "information" so much as prejudice and bigotry.

Therefore, this "stuff that is in my head and in the heads of others" must be shared if it is to become information, but how? Since I personally do not believe ESP exists, the only ways of sharing this "stuff inside our heads" is either orally by use of language and texts, or visually by painting, music, dance and so on. If you don't talk about something, it cannot be information; even if you do talk about these matters with friends, if it is not recorded in some way, it will soon be lost. Look at all the wonderful stories of people's lives that have been lost because they have never been recorded.

Each method has its problems, of course. My cats, for example, can communicate only very basic feelings to me. A human may not be able to write or speak well. I personally cannot sing to save my life, but each person has strengths and weaknesses in how they can share the ideas and feelings they have, and once it is received by others, this is when it becomes information. Different people will react in different ways to this information: it may be "good," "reliable," "poor," "stupid," or whatever. Of course, it's not easy to find the relevant "stuff" out there in the first place.

The methods people have to share information are changing radically. They use virtual means and radically new tools to create and share, and people find this exciting, just as I do.

Mediating a part of this sharing (not all of it) is the world of librarians, and I think we must enter it as completely as possible, much more than previously. We will not have the control over people that we once had, but we can still have many of the same controls over the materials themselves, so that people can find relevant resources, and in this way, complete the "information process" i.e. where people receive the "stuff recorded by others" and thereby it becomes "information." The part that interests me most is: how do people find "stuff recorded by others" that is relevant to their searches? But of course, there is a lot more involved.

We have to understand information and find its limitations and possibilities. I consider this task to be a highly practical one, where theory takes a definite back seat to trial-and-error. We must accept that almost all bets are off about what people supposedly want from their information. For example, FRBR proclaims what it knows what users want, but those user needs are demonstrably obsolete today.

I don't think I need to go on, and I apologize for going on as long as I have, but I still maintain that *librarians* are the experts at this very important task of organizing *information,* which is the "ideas and feelings" that people share. Of course, librarians still have a lot to learn. In any case, it is important to understand and accept our successes just as much as our failures.

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