I’ve decided on a personal moratorium on the use of LIS; i.e., Library & Information Science.
My personal beliefs are such that it isn’t really a science anyway, but don’t worry as I don’t really consider physics to be one either. Hasn’t been so for a long time now.
So what’s my current beef you might ask? Having watched a fair amount of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control’s 3rd meeting via live webcast yesterday, along with attending the 2nd one in Chicago, toss in a few other odd reports and such here and there, and one should quickly notice that we have pretty much nothing but anecdote. Not a damn shred of actual evidence for anything anywhere. Just a lot of talking heads talking about what they think is wanted by users or about what systems and data we need to supply that to them.
Hell, even the players (variables) aren’t fully explicated. As was pointed out yesterday, where are the publishers in these discussions? And give me a break with that ridiculous bipartite division of the “use environment” that was devised in the 1st meeting, “consumers” and “management.” These may be the “apparent” ones, but please tell me we will look beyond apparent.
OK. I’m shutting up because I will be looking for a job sometime in the next few months or less. [I will not silence myself for the sake of a job.] Just please don’t talk to me about no damn “science” in our field. I simply find this whole charade unbelievable. Librarians really are too nice for their own good and certainly for the good of the profession. More importantly, we are too nice to do the job needing doing for our (multi-faceted) users.
Please, can someone show me the science?
[This morning I wrote a nice postscript adding a little nuance to the above as in admitting that there is some science-like work being done in our field and that it just doesn't seem to be being used in this project. Alas, my host's spam filters trashed it all upon trying to save it. Besides not being able to comment on my own blog; now I cannot post to it. Blake has hopefully fixed it but it was/is very frustrating. It didn't just not save, but instead trashed a fairly complex and, I might add, eloquent paragraph. As it is, I shall extend this little rant.]
Regarding the lack of publisher presence in these discussions: It seems pretty evident that little effort went into thinking about which communities needed to be part of this process. The way I see it LC and the Working Group decided that whoever was interested (much less, whoever should be interested) would just show up because they decided to have some meetings. This move (or lack of a move) leaves them in the clear. If they had actually spent time considering this point and had issued calls for participation for all groups “we” think need to participate and then some group had turned up overlooked they would be responsible. But by avoiding this, when it becomes apparent that some community is missing the fault is definitely not their’s. They have been inclusive and certainly not exclusionary. They are immune from blame. Well, I cry foul and hold this group responsible for failing to try to ensure that representatives from all needed communities are present.
Publishers, it seems to me, have little apparent incentive to worry about what we as a discipline do to describe their materials after they are published. Perhaps they should. Perhaps we could convince them that they do. But that seems as if it will take an active effort on our part to convince them of such. And just because we may need their assistance (if possible) does not mean they need to be willing to provide it.
Dan Chudnov has become my personal hero. [The following is a loose paraphrase of something Dan said much more politely and eloquently. I suggest you watch the webcast of yesterday's meeting—towards the end of the day—to see/hear this in Dan's own words.]
It seems that earlier in the day a comment (or more) had been made about some of the issues with current institutional repository software design and that if only the software designers had involved catalogers and other library professionals earlier in the process…. Dan stated that as a librarian, coder, and institutional repository software designer he noticed what seemed to be an awful lot of talk about the capabilities of software/technology to solve a lot of our problems and that it was clear that not too many people knew what they were talking about. [Again, this is an extremely loose paraphrase. Perhaps it is what I wanted to hear.] He volunteered to serve as a liaison between the coding and library communities and asked/suggested that another series of meetings be scheduled at which the ILS vendors, open source folks, library coders and techies, etc. can sit down with the bibliographic structure/control folks and come to some common understanding of what is possible and to what degree.
Yay, Dan! Many of us owe Dan Chudnov our hearty thanks for calling trump on these folks. I treat the concept of hero very seriously, but in this situation I am calling Dan Chudnov my personal hero.
The software/coding community is another one pretty much completely missing from this process. Instead we get to listen to folks like Karen Calhoun tell us what software is capable of. While Karen Calhoun is a smart person, she really has little idea of what she speaks about when she makes these claims. As do few of the others who make them. It is all more/mere anecdotes and finding an article or two that supports what you want to claim. Although, in the Working Group process all the support (superficial, or not) seems to be missing.
Why is it that librarians think they know so much about other areas of knowledge? I certainly am not claiming scientific status or even that this is a theory, or that this is universally generalizable (it is not), but I have a hypothesis.
Many librarians have multiple degrees, often advanced degrees, and we are trained to be experts in search, sometimes in research, and we have a good grasp of the structure of knowledge “universally.” Or so we think, anyway. I think this leads many to think that they can just look up something that they don’t know in some book, article, or even a so-called reputable reference source. We can do a little digging and discern the structure of an unknown field.
So. Need to know the capabilities of concept x, or software technique y, or anything else? Just look it up. Read a couple review articles. We’re librarians, we can just do a little research and we’ll be competent.
What a complete and utter joke! Clearly, there are times where this cursory depth and breadth suffices for some need. But, if one even remotely believes in the process of higher education and specialization, whether instantiated in our current system of higher education or some other manner in which to address the vast panoply of the universe of knowledge, then it follows that a little study is frequently not enough to address the needs we have. I stand awestruck from the hubris involved in such thinking.
I am not trying to be derogatory toward each and every member of the Working Group individually. But there truly is (often) an almost complete numbness of mind that comes over committees. I truly must believe that on occasion some individual member or another wakes up and asks a real-world complex question and reminds the others that they need real data, perhaps even new research to back up any answer. And then for various “institutional” reasons—artificial deadlines, efficiency, cost, committee narcosis—that all gets waived aside.
Clearly, there are a lot of bright people working on this. But seeing as this is one of the most important revolutions of our time—as in all revolutions some things should stay, some should change, and some should go—why, oh why, is it being so utterly fucked up?
I sincerely apologize if I have offended anyone with any of this. I truly do. But this could be one of the most important things to happen in the fundamental ways in which we in the field of librarianship structure our world so that we may meet the needs (current and future) of our users, in and for a long time. And the process as instantiated is a complete and utter joke!
I am frustrated. I am pissed off. I am dumbfounded. I am confused. And based on personal conversations so are others. It is only right for me to allow them to speak for themselves if they so choose, though.
Me. I said my piece. And, yes, I am mad.