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[2670] Week 1 Reading Responses

For this week, I’m commenting informally and responding to things as I read them. Not “First I will read the article, and then I will post my fully processed thoughts,” but “Hey, that sentence seems worth commenting on. Here’s what I think.” I see some benefit to both approaches, and I hope to try both throughout the semester. For that matter, when I get Understanding Digital Libraries (Lesk), I may do that with Chapter 1. (Yes, this will be posted without thoughts on Chapter 1. If I have thoughts worth posting, I’ll come back and edit this post, though.)

If this seems far too informal, please feel free to drop me a note (coral dot hess at gmail dot com), and I’ll cut it out and keep my posts more to the point.

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I take issue with the author of Digital Libraries and the Problem of Purpose‘s attitude about what a public library is. It seems like he waves away precisely the roles I would say the library fills, “an all-purpose information center, … a community center, … a center for adult education, [and] … the guardian of free speech,” to make a claim I take real issue with: “… public libraries finally began to come to terms with their more limited but realistic purpose: to be suppliers of books to the middle class and a symbol of culture in the community.” (He was, in turn, citing a private communication, something that perhaps wasn’t intended to be cited or taken as speaking for every public library, to such a large audience.) I don’t think that’s a fair description, at all. Libraries are far more than a symbol; in many places, they very much serve as the anchors and educators of their communities. To refer to them as “symbol[s] of culture” is, I think, the tiniest bit condescending. Further, I read something mildly disparaging in the use of the term “middle class,” as though a library ought only to cater to some other group, instead. And, if it were the case that the middle class were the only users of the library, I could see where he might be coming from. It’s my experience, though, that public libraries serve a more diverse set of economic groups than “the middle class.”

His over-arching point, that we should think a bit about what digital libraries are and should be–what we should try to make them–I have no issue with. He’s probably right. My suggested approach to dealing with digital libraries, “Grow all collections, including digital ones, based on user needs/demands and technological innovation, organically–but also intelligently,” is no doubt naive. Or at least lacking in detail. I understand that. And I’m looking forward to refining that viewpoint throughout the semester and the next few (many?) years.

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I love that Automated Digital Libraries discusses the Internet Archive, or Wayback Machine.

“Disintermediation” is an interesting term; I think it has an unnecessarily negative sound to it, as though it is the librarian’s right to serve as the gateway between a patron and the information they seek. That doesn’t seem right to me. I, for one, am not offended by patrons who can find information without a librarian’s help, although I am always happy to step in and help when I can.

I’m going to have to think a bit about the observation that most of the successful automated digital library projects–at least, the ones he deems worth mention–were made outside of and separate from established libraries. That interests and concerns me. But I wonder how much it really should concern me…

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In Dewey Meets Turing, I found the following quote intriguing: “librarians who involved themselves in the Initiative understood that information technologies were indeed important to ensure libraries’ continued impact on scholarly work.” If this article has it right, the concern was that libraries would be left out in the cold, so to speak. “We have to upgrade and innovate, or else we will be left behind and no longer have an impact,” it seems to say. There is, perhaps, some worry about job security implied. I guess it stood out so much to me, because the previous article discussed automated digital libraries, with no need for librarians. So we build digital libraries to secure the jobs that will be replaced by very large computers? (I know I’m oversimplifying, but that’s what went through my head as I read it.)

I’m only about 2/3 of the way through, as I make this comment, but I wonder: am I reading too much into this article, or is it kind of painting CS types as heroes and LIS types as traditionalists? I’ve got some background in CS, and I can’t find any one comment I disagree with. It’s just a tonal thing, possibly imaginary.

“The notion of collections is spontaneously re-emerging in the form of what computer scientists have named information ‘hubs.'” Really? I’m having trouble thinking of an example of a “hub.” (And, I confess, not having an ACM account or the patience to go through Pitt’s or CMU’s VPN, I didn’t read the article linked to the word “hub.”) Do any readers have an example? I feel like there’s probably some obvious thing, but all that’s coming to mind is Wikipedia–something that certainly is not curated in any meaningful way.

I like the authors’ hopeful tone.

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From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure, I think, missed out on a real opportunity. s/Infrastructure/Grid/, and you get a far better-sounding title. (I kid.)

I have to admit, this “sniping” between CS people and LIS people keeps coming up, and even though it makes perfect sense, I am a little surprised to learn about it. I can easily see how it comes about, now that I have occasion to think about it; I just hadn’t thought about it before, I suppose.

Note to self: check out http://memory.loc.gov.

This seemed important enough to call out: “Griffiths (1998) confronts the question of ‘why the web is not a library.’ Her rea-
sons include incompleteness of content, lack of standards and validation, minimal cataloging, and ineffective information retrieval. To this I add that the World Wide Web is not an institution and is not organized on behalf of a specifiable user community.” Indeed. This is a very good answer.

I admit, this whole reading (Chapter 2, for those following along at home) was a bit of a blur for me. It is focused pretty much entirely on definitions and semantics, something I have really limited interest in. I do realize the importance of the discussion (as the author himself says, “Words do matter, however, and they will influence the success of our ventures”). But I’m going to have to look over this reading again, at a later date, if I really want to absorb it all.

Still, I feel like the whole point is captured very well in this summary (copied from the book): “From a research perspective, digital libraries are content collected and organized on behalf of user communities. From a library-practice perspective, digital libraries are institutions or organizations that provide information services in digital forms. Definitions are formulated to serve specific purposes. The research community’s definitions serve to identify and focus attention on research problems and to expand the community of interest around those problems. The library community’s definitions focus on practical challenges involved in transforming library institutions and services. Databases available on the Internet, on proprietary services, and on CD-ROMs fall into a gray area.”

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Before I get too far into Setting the Foundations of Digital Libraries, I have to admit, I have a warm spot in my heart for Manifestos. Or, at least, I smile when I read the word, for no good reason I can name.

I like that this paper presents the different ideologies not as CS vs. LIS, but as having “shifted” from one to the other.

Ha: “this terminological imprecision has produced a plethora of heterogeneous entities…” (They’re absolutely right, of course. But you’ve gotta love that phrasing.)

I like that they are trying to structure the conversation about digital libraries and standardize the terms that are used. I don’t feel as though their diagrams convey all that much extra information, to be honest, and their text could more or less stand alone.

I think internalizing all of their terminology and using it consistently would be a good idea. (Dr. He, it’s been over a year since this paper came out–and longer since the Manifesto–does it seem as though the DL community at large is using this terminology? Do American and European papers differ, much, in their adherence to this vocabulary?) That would take me, at least, some time. But having structured language is important and worthwhile.

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