Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Libraries asssessments and futures...

The writings for this week are in many ways foreshadows of current technology. In other ways they are the dream ideas of brilliant Futurists. Aspects of both types of thought can be seen in the Memex conceived by Vannevar Bush (no relation to George W. Bush).At its core his ideas were based on the premise that we did not lack the ideas or thoughts to propel society forward. Rather we lacked a way of accessing ideas and creating connections between diverse and divergent concepts. His Memex sought to “store” and “extend” concepts in order that they should be “useful to society” (Bush p.2). He places his technology and ideas within the framework of other advances, such as photography, film and recording devices and in many ways sells his ideas as a product that will revolutionize the way we think about information and ideas. His Memex is said by some to be an early form of the internet, sans worldwide connections, for its ability to place ideas in web-like frameworks of connectivity.

In the world of Bush and his allies, the world-wide web is not computer based but micro-film based. Surely he never considered the way that the technology degrades as Nicholson Baker would decry many decades later in DoubleFold . Such is the drumbeat of progress, considering more the desire to get someplace new than the ramifications of the journey. One has to wonder what the value of historical archives are if they are all degrading. Yet there is no consideration for the preservation of documents in their original form within the Memex.

The work of Bush sidles up nicely to Leigh’s The Public Library Inquiry inasmuch as one considers the way in which information can be shared for the purposes of research, and Leigh considers the way in which resources can be shared amongst libraries to build an efficient network of libraries that would share materials for the enjoyment of users and the cost-savings of taxpayers. It is rare in our society when bastions of culture and the arts as libraries are, are put under the microscope of scientific analysis in dry calculations that seeks to quantify all the meanings derived from the place and from the services derived within. How do you measure something that is at once the “People’s University” and at the same time (but perhaps in a separate room), a place for the education of children (p.225)?

Written in the 1950’s during the rise of the interstate fast-car society, the chapter entitled “The Direction of Development” calls for centralization to take advantage of economies of scale, and provide an equalization of resources between smaller and larger libraries. The document further tells of the expansion of the libraries role as educator of adults and children. At the time of writing, the school library as we know it today had not yet come into being. Therefore it was impressed upon both the schools and the public library to make materials and staff resources available to younger students. To this end, the document calls increased training of librarians for this role, in both school libraries and in the public library sector.

While the document touches on many topics, the ultimate theme is the need for streamlining, Definition of duties and the efficient provision of resources to carry out those duties.

Pennavaria’s 2002 work Representation of Books and Libraries in Depictions of the Future captures a more modern perspective on our never diminishing fascination with The Library of the Future. She divides tales of the future into the categories of “utopian” or “dystopian” (p.230). That is to say happy tales and sad tales. Pennavaria speaks of Orwell’s 1984, and provides this writer a means of connection to another of this week’s writings, Bush’s “As We May Think” *(1945), which she notes is both hopeful in its offer of salvation through technology, but also cautionary in his plead that technology can be peaceful, even as he is aware of the constant drumbeats for war.

One has to wonder if the futuristic idea of “Libraries as community center” came from librarians as a gift to the writer, or if the futurists gifted us with this concept (p.237). Just as little thought was given to the mechanisms that would increase the speed of knowledge acquisition according to Pennavaria, so too was little consideration given to the types of people that would use the library. Could they know that libraries would collect GLBT works, that they would house original copies of infamous works such as Mein Kampf? Just as they had no idea about the mechanics of technology, so too it would seem that they had little idea about the human mechanics of support for libraries – staff members and interest groups that form the backbone coalition for the support of any library.

Sapp’s Early Visions of Future Librarianship begins with Ranganathan’s 5th law of Library Science that “the Library is a growing organism’ (p.xi). He begins with Dewey’s hope for the future of the library and uses that as a catapult to discuss the dreams of other library greats. During the early years, were obsessed with notions of professionalization, such that it had to be overtly stated that librarianship existed as Bibliothecal Science (P.xiv).

As was noted in the readings for last week, wars played an important role in defining the mission of the library. They also played a role in increasing the visibility of librarians, even as it came late to the idea of the library as a proponent of democracy. The writer notes the “technical” aspects of early training and efforts to develop curriculum that reflected the desired higher status. Specialization was one method used to both enhance the status of librarians and enhance the level of service available for the growing needs for academic and corporate librarians. The overall training was touted alongside aspirations for the increase in cultural impact and relevance of librarians in wider society

Other descriptions sought to clarify divisions of labor, monetary support for librarianship through endowments and the role of librarians as intelligent gatekeepers of the new information economy. Throughout the work, one has to wonder where the line between the formation of new mission statements and pure aspirational wishes lay. At some point like the rantings of those who insist on the existence of extra-terrestrial races, one has to wonder if the fantastical writings of Futurists enhanced or in fact diminished the credibility of librarians in the mind of the public.

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