Lately I’ve become a bit cynical, disenchanted, and dismayed about the role of technology in our profession. If I wasn’t so hopelessly addicted to minor computer games and immediate access to weather reports I’d seriously consider becoming a Luddite. I have been having trouble conceptualizing my concerns; they just sort of linger in the back of my brain. Bear in mind that my entire job is based around all things digital and remote so its not that I’m unaware of technology and its potentialities. So I have to always add, don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-technology; I’m just weary of the hype.
Into this context I have found a book that I think I’m going to read, “You are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier. There was an intriguing review by Kent Anderson in the Scholarly Kitchen: You Are Not a Gadget” — Why Open Culture and Technocentric Philosophies Are Ruining Our Lives“. Even the review is worth a quick read. Some intriguing points in this blog (and probably pull from the book) include…
- “How we’ve ceded some of our brains to the digital “hive culture””
- While open access sound good, “what it’s actually created is an amoral world in which consequences aren’t considered, the victims are blamed, technical solutions are thought to be better than common sense, creativity has been stifled, commerce is abandoned, and gee-whiz wonderment conceals deeply cynical plays by scheming companies. “
- “how dismissive technologists are to the common sense of “security through obscurity” while also implicitly blaming the victims of social media services, yet contributing nothing creative to our culture.”
- “It’s very interesting to note how little originality open culture has generated for scholarly publishing. Instead of making ground-breaking information systems (those have emerged from closed systems and traditional economic models, by the way), the “open” initiatives have been technology-based recreations of existing forms, with little creativity, just echoes (or disjointed assemblages of echoes). “
- “Because we’ve been beguiled by “digital,” we’ve forgotten that humans, creativity, work, and good things should matter more than slick new distribution or presentation systems. “
If just this book review was able to articulate my recent digital dissatisfaction, how much more can the actual book do? The last bullet point above (beguiled by digital) pretty much encapsulates much of what I’ve been feeling lately.
How’s this for irony, I’m jumping online now and ordering this book from Amazon.com…
Before I pick-up on the core competencies thread, I just want to ponder for a moment if the full moon was playing havoc on all things technical today. We were just filled with all sorts of gremlin types of oddities. Nothing horrible, more like a nuisance. I thought once I left work I could put my tech. woes behind me, but Word Press is even slow tonight. Gotta be the full moon….
So yesterday I was taking the position that the ALA Core Competencies are NOT merely supporting the traditional status quo, but are instead possibly flexible enough to ground the profession in our solid roots but allow for full and beautiful blooming (to keep up with my nature analogy). Overly romanticized notion; I know. Its also surprising because I often find myself taking a role in opposition to our professional association mandates and/or initiatves. My musings are mostly just a way of stimulating thought. Sort of like a debate where all sides need to be aired. I’m trying to just raise some questions about the 8 generic core competency topics.
Yesterday I covered my views on Foundations of the Profession and Information Resources.
– Organization of Recorded Knowledge & Information.
To tell you the truth I’m not sure what this means exactly. I’m assuming it means what we once referred to as organization of information. As we all know; I’m not a big fan of the whole information deal, but am a big fan of always moving towards knowledge so I can go with this. I find the use of the word “recorded” to be quite interesting. Given the growth in the areas of digitization and institutional respositories, I can’t help but think that this is one area that is quite forward thinking. As librarians we are nothing if not the experts in organization “information” so that it is easier to find and process. This organization could take the form ( I would imagine) of the metadata we add to improve search successes. It’s also the categories and labels we put on our web sites. (can I tell you how often we ponder whether the word databases is a good label for those things).
This category takes on even more important meanings in a world where we are trying to digitize our institutional paper trails. There are actually (from my casual observations of the jobs lists) jobs to be had in the arena of archives and digitization. Call it what you will, there is definatly a future in our organizational abilities. I probably spend the biggest chunk of my work life literally organization information.
– Technology Knowledge and Skills.
This certainly speaks for itself. I’m also quite pleased to see the word knowledge used. Adapting and becomine facile with technologies isn’t so much learning new programs as it is a mindset about the role of technology in our world. To me this is the epitome of Technology Knowledge.
– Reference and User Services
Ok, so this is a traditional category, but only if you lack vision. I can’t conceive of any circumstances under which librarians won’t be called upon to play a reference role. I also think the increasing important activity of user education could fall under this category. As the world moves at increasing rates of speed, the role of librarians in teaching about technology, evaluating resources, searching, etc…. This to me is the heart of being a library. This is the service component of what we do. Whether reference is provided in a traditional manner and/or provided through an emerging technology; its still a service that I think will be vital as we move forward as a profession.
Sigh… I’m just not up to pontificate about the whole research role. This category will get a whole posting devoted to it at a later time. Let me just say that this isn’t some left over relic from times gone by. There are so many areas ripe for good research.
–Continuing Education & Lifelong Learning
This pretty much speaks for itself as well. The important aspect of this isn’t the topics per se, but the mindset that this is something important for librarians to do. It seems like a no brainer to me — like so obvious I can’t believe they felt the need to declare this a core competency.
– Administration & Management
ok, I don’t get how anyone could possibly think this is an out of date idea. Even if we accept the premise that our future is equal to emerging technologies, there is still a need to manage people places and things. So I don’t see enough here to even discuss.
So where do I go from here? It seems to me there are sort of three main concepts at work as we look towards the future…
–Understanding our broad set of competencies;
and as I look over the ALA list; I think its as good as anything. Broad yet vague —
–Developing Underlying Skill Sets to carry forth our mission and that support our core competencies.
These skills would/could vary from job to job. These are the types of things that we learned in library school and most likely promptly forgot. To be honest I think I only took 2 classes where I learned anything that I didn’t already know from working in a library for 8 years. Skills are easy to pick-up and since they change the most rapidly they are the ones that we should probably put the least focus in library school.
Here is a list of “skills” that I use most frequently in my job. I’ll attempt to annotate to reflect those which I learned in school and those which I learned on the job or in a class outside the library school sphere.
– Negotiating Electronic Licenses (bearing in mind that I have been out of school for over 10 years)
This wasn’t even mentioned as something that existed. Now I spend a good portion of each year (although less now that I’ve conquered the indemnification clause) working on licensing our electronic resources.
–Usability Testing (web pages or other digital portals)
Again not even mentioned as something that exists.
– HTML coding
Voila something I did learn in school. Although I learned in the pre-style sheet era; the basic skill set did however easily allow me to pick up CSS or even XML.
–Statistical Analysis and Interpetation
We did learn some basic statistics and research skills in school, but nothing there prepared me for the scope of data that we have to draw upon.
Other than cataloging and learning how to search other products, I didn’t have a good skill foundation for how I organize information now. The cataloging foundation has, however, served me in good stead as it taught me a way of thinking about the world.
Do I regret or wish I had learned these skills in school? No it hasn’t negatively impeded my work (gosh that does sound arrogant yikes). I do wish we had spent more time discussing philosophical and ethical issues. You know big picture stuff rather than the time we did spend on specific skills.
Ok earlier I had said there were 3 main themes, so I’d best conclude with a 3rd…
– The third “concept” as we look towards the future is an ability to predict the future. David Ferreio used to quote Wayne Gretzky and there seem to be 2 variations on this.
“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be. “
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. “
Classic quotes that exemplify what I think should be our world view. Note that they emphasize a notion of thinking forwardly (ick grammar issues)…. There isn’t a mention here of HOW to skate or what tools should be used to skate.
Myself, my motto quote comes from Patton…
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
In other words (mine) put the future in perspective, its there looming but don’t get so lost in the details or what ifs about the looming future that you forget that no matter what we live and work in the today.
I’ve been out of the office for 3 days conducting usability testing for our new/updated site. We went to 3 locations and worked with 9 users/testers. I’m not attempting to write our findings here … that would be a bit premature (to say the least).
Although I had been checking email while I was out of the office and although I was working on our site, our project with our typical user groups; its amazing how out of touch I feel with the library world. This is odd since I was spending all my time testing in libraries. I was reading tonight trying to find something to write about and it felt like it had been weeks since I had thought about macro issues.
Since I’m feeling a bit out of touch with the types of macro issues about which I usually post and since my mind is still caught up in all things usability, I think I’ll do a brief de-brief (ha ha) (or not…)
We tested a range of users running the spectrum of occupations and familiarity with our existing site. We were sort of following one Jacob Nielsen’s rule of thumbs about the number of users. He has stated that, “It takes only five users to uncover 80 percent of high-level usability problems” — Our testing uncovered overwhelming consistency across the spectrum of our users. Which was good news for us moving forward.
Here are my interesting observations about the testing… From my highly unscientific observations on this topic, the biggest variable that seemed to result in differing comments or concerns with our testing was one occupational factor: being a librarian. The librarians we showed the site to, seemed to have issues, concerns, or ideas that fell out of the spectrum of things that were being experienced by the other users we tested. This wasn’t hugely surprising, but it was interesting.
This next observation about which much has been written is that there did also seem to be some usage issues based on age. Since so much has been written in other places about this; I’ll just leave it to say that we (or rather I) did note it to a small extent.
I found a usability testing “tutorial” hosted at the University of Texas at Austin. (accessed 11/2/2009), this was the basic outline of how we conducted our tests. (although I found this tutorial after we had already planned and completed most of our testing).
Tomorrow… back to the salt mine. Maybe I’ll be feeling a bit more inspired tomorrow night…