I guess my last post intrigued quite a few people, judging by the number and nature of the comments. In some ways we come back to the Nurture Versus Nature theme, and to the meaning of “expertise”. [An aside, I am still ploughing through The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, all 900 pages of it, including the index. If you’re interested in the issues surrounding expertise, it looks well worth a read. More later.]
Four themes stand out from the comments:
- One, that the web has many bad librarians: bad in the context of their anchors and frames, bad in the context of their biases and gatekeeping, bad in the context of the expertise they possess (or not, as the case may be)
- Two, that the profession of librarianship has understood the need to change with the times, and that they are looking at the web and to the web quite seriously
- Three, the time dimension associated with the World Live Web is one that has magical possibilities and horrendous potential for problems as well
- Four, we need to look at the social space and engagement and experience as closely as we look at the classification and finding and retrieval, and within this we need to understand more about the relationships and trust bonds between searcher and find-enabler
So thank you everyone for your comments, I continue to be blessed. Let me try and take some parts of the argument a bit further.
First on gatekeeping and expertise and Damn Fools.
Paul Miller gave me some very useful insights into what librarians are doing today. I was particularly taken with this:
The library of Library 2.0 exults in integrating the consistency and cohesiveness of formal classification systems with the more fluid granularity of the folksonomy.
There’s the rub. How to take historical taxonomies and ontologies and mold them into such a shape that they can be enriched by the Wisdom of Crowds, while managing to keep out the Madness of the self-same Crowds. Capture the passion, connect with the perseverance and patience, discard the Damn Fools and their biases and anchors and frames.
This can be done. This will happen. But only if we allow the passion of the amateur to flourish at the same time as the professionalism of the “expert”. There’s a Long Tail aspect somewhere in this, where we need to move out of the Hit Culture and understand that Search and Find become real when you deal with the outliers, the low-frequency requests and responses. That’s where expertise comes into its own. In the niches, in the nooks and crannies.
Paul Simmons had some very interesting thoughts about “unused” pieces atrophying and being greyed out, whether it’s software functionality or links or information or books or whatever. There’s something about the idea that I like, that intrigues me, yet I push back. Because it’s to do with the time dimension. There may be some things that come into play only once in a blue moon, but that doesn’t make them less important. In fact at blue moon time they may be critical, far more important than anything else. I think that holds true for software, for links, for information. And for books.
I fully accept Stephen Smoliar’s points about the role of credentials and of domain knowledge in conversations, and those of John Dodds and Anant in similar vein. My point was more to do with keeping the barriers to entry as low as possible, so that the folksonomy is also allowed to flourish. This is not easy to do, but should be easier with the web and with modern tools. Much of this is borne out in Paul Miller’s piece and the pdf he links to.
John Dodds’ other point about the paucity of fluid multidimensional skills required by a “livebrarian” is also of particular interest to me. With the tools we have today, we can attach time and location and context information much more “richly”, thereby improving the whole search process, something that Simon Hollins referred to in an earlier comment. We have the technology.
Once we move into an n-language n-data-type n-discipline-or-genre n-location model, I think we will also need to move into an n-person-distributed-librarian model. We have many historically disenfranchised people, some illiterate, some unable to see or speak or hear, some unable to move, many unable to understand more than one language. The web allows us to re-enfranchise everyone, but only if we get the “livebrarian” right.
Which means we have one more social shift to deal with, that of moving from deterministic request-response to probabilistic and context-aware and heuristic.
The Livebrarian becomes an aggregated “recommender”, seeking to use both formal as well as folksonomic information, enrich the request with context and location, then summarise the recommendation for the searcher. I cannot help but think that this is best done by providing wetware librarians with software assistance and peer-generated collaboratively-filtered information.
What I have seen so far in web-enabled “Ask and I shall give you advice” services is less than promising. Even Damn Fools are better. Which is why I am glad that the profession of librarianship takes this issue seriously, their domain expertise is necessary. But it is not sufficient, not until we get the value of the Wisdom of Crowds and the movement away from the Hit Culture.
Paul Anderson‘s comment on the futility of polarised debate with respect to all this is also important. We need to be comfortable with grey when pushed towards black and white. We need to be comfortable with Analogue when we are pushed towards zero and one. We need to be comfortable with Mu.
Often polarisation takes places as a pendulum response to an entrenched situation. Over time, the polarisation becomes less intense and a sustainable change takes place. Isn’t that how paradigms shift?
In one, Dennis is standing in the middle of a shopping mall. He gets asked by a friendly policeman if he was lost. And he replies “I’m not lost. I’m here. It’s my parents who are lost”.
In the second, Dennis is looking at a dictionary. When told that he needs to know how to spell a word in order to find the word, he looks bemused and says “But then what do I use to find out how to spell it?”. Or words to that effect.
I think we should also look at our children and at Generation M, to see how they search and how they find. They don’t have our biases and corruptions. Or expertise :-)