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1876 and all this January 9, 2006

Posted by unamable in Library 2.0, metagraphic, Repatronising.

The great ordering of things, beginning in 1876 for us folks, has contributed to our current mindset which seems to necessitate a confusion between access and organisation when moments of crisis emerge.

Dewey Decimal, with all of its faults, was an attempt, rooted in a particular time, to organise knowledge. Thereafter other schemes grew up which also tried to cut up the world of knowledge into identifiable chunks with labels attached. Their aim, as far as I can see, was to organise in order to assist finding – the actual access to the items (apart from serendipidous browsing) was through the catalogue. This is or is not, depending on which part of the biblioblogosphere you chose to inhabit, entirely a “good thing”, since these trusted tools are again only a partial fix when we want access. The vagaries of description and choices of keywords begin to work against finding, giving, in some cases too much precision, in others too much recall or often, neither precision or recall. Gawd bless’em search engines seem to have revived the thought world relating to access and finding – so maybe we are on a roll – if us librarians can stop feeling threatened and lie back and enjoy what is happening to our lives.
These days, we are faced with the “what-about-the-patrons” conundrum (allied to the “they’re- running-away-from-us-catch-them” syndrome) which we have successfully managed to avoid solving before Internet times. When we librarians were the “guardians of knowledge” we were the only ones who did anything with, or about, knowledge and therefore what we decided to do (to organise, make accessible etc.) was what our users got – and was fine by us. Now that everyone is able and willing to offer their own take on tags and their own oblique on organisation there is a sudden crisis of confidence in our profession. This risks swinging somewhat wildly from the “we know best” to “we don’t know a thing” – neither of which I agree with.

We have some of the story – now there are others interested in contributing to this story and why shouldn’t this include our patrons. I still feel that the frameworks (classification or metadata) are useful but no framework in the information/knowledge world of today is built to withstand internet speed. Therefore to me such co-operative, flexible sets of relationships between all who are involved in the issues of seeking and finding offers solid economies of scale, re-engages with patrons, widens our social/professional circle and the results of the interactivity will then reinform the frameworks. Simple ennit?



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