Archive for the ‘LIS’ Category

Why we organize

We organize because we need to retrieve.

— Arlene G. Taylor, The Organization of Information (Westport, Conn. : Libraries Unlimited, 2004), pg. 1.

Leaving aside the folks who organize because of OCD

Is there a good study out there about the range of ways that library patrons use to retrieve? Librarians organize for patrons, yet it seems to me that we rarely talk about how those patrons approach the task of retrieving, and whether our methods of organizing serve their ways of retrieving.


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Ian F. McNeely and Lisa Wolverton note how the development by the Greeks of libraries, as storehouses of the written word, changed the possibilities of knowledge from what they had been in a purely oral society:

Every library comfortably contains writings and juxtaposes ideas that, if they were represented by their proponents in the flesh, might contrast violently with one another. Yet there they sit, on shelves, awaiting such scholars as may chance upon them to confront their latent contradictions. Libraries […] [construct] a well-made intellectual edifice where every doctrine has its proper place. Where schools [of philosophy] fade or fragment, libraries persist; where schools [of philosophy] sustain fixed arguments and preserve intellectual lineages, libraries absorb new knowledge and accommodate newcomers to learning. This made Greek learning, incubated by oral competition, newly portable to non-Greek landscapes. Abroad, for the first time, writing enabled the accumulation not just of philosophical perspectives but of knowledge of the world more generally.

Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), page 13.

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James Evans, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, writes about his research into the costs of having more research materials available online.

The benefits of having the materials online are obvious: Ease of finding, ease of searching, ease of printing.

Evans wondered whether there were costs along with those benefits. He found that the ease of using online research materials seems to make scholars less likely to use print materials—even ones that are not replicated online—and thus more likely to narrow the scope of their research to materials from the Internet Age and materials from “high-status” journals, each of which is more likely to be available online.

My summary does not do justice to Carr’s blog post, much less his actual article, which I…um, have not yet read because it is not available to me online (but what do you expect from a superficial cat?). If the subject interests you, then go read the post.

(H/t to Nick Carr.)

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The good old ALA

On July 20, I renewed my membership in the American Library Association online, and had that renewal confirmed by e-mail.

On August 11, I got a letter and a renewal form from the ALA, urging me to renew my membership soon. The letter asks me to “renew online…and save the stamp”.

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Ways of knowing

A paraphrase of something I wrote in 1997:

Human societies have two ways of storing knowledge: Written down in libraries, archives, etc.; and memorized in people’s minds.

The amount of knowledge that is written down is ever-increasing, but the amount that an individual can memorize is biologically limited.

Managing that growing disparity will require better searching and cataloging methods to help transfer knowledge from where it is stored to where it is needed.

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“Bookhunter” interview

My friend and co-worker Laural Winter interviews Jason Shiga, the author of Bookhunter, my favorite graphic novel.

Bookhunter is the story of how the Oakland Public Library’s detective squad and SWAT team cracked a 1973 book theft case. If you find the idea of a public library having a detective squad and a SWAT team intriguing, then you might like this book. If you think public libraries should have had a detective squad and a SWAT team a long damn time ago, then you will love this book. Plus, it’s funny, it’s smart, and the plot works.

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Demonstrating commitment

A point often made in defense of the requirement that librarians get a master’s degree in library science and the recommendation that they remain current members of the American Library Association is that these two acts “demonstrate commitment” to the profession.

If demonstrating commitment is the important thing, then permit me to make this modest proposal: Allow prospective librarians to bypass the MLS and get a lifetime ALA membership in exchange for having a large tattoo of Melvil Dewey etched onto their forearms. (Those who want to become academic librarians would also have to get a second tattoo—a subject tattoo, if you will—etched on their other forearm.) Commitment demonstrated, $30,000 and two years saved—everyone wins!

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