The Need for Theory?

Conrad Taylor’s Whose Information Profession Is It, Anyway?adds to an already expansive corpus of literature on the definitions of the information profession. If librarians have a tough time explaining what a librarian is, information professionals have mountainous terrains to travel before they can come close to a consensus. One point that Taylor points out is the lack of a definitive, universal “theory” which the information profession can build on, as a starting place for standardizing practices and promoting the profession.   But as Taylor warns, in the internet culture of today:

With its self-service approach to information discovery and skepticism about classification, disrupts this paradigm.  Meanwhile in public libraries, half the space looks like an Internet cafe, and the job of librarian isnt’ what it used to be.

Examining Susan Myburgh’s ideas, he proposes that the information profession needs to draw on a “constructivist” agenda, one which draws on such fields as semiotics, linguistics, cultural studies, and epistemology.  In other words, there needs to be a manifesto that requires a “clarity in our thinking”.     It seems that this is begging to say it’s time that we take  hold of social media as a core of whatever grand meta-narrative we choose to evolve for this profession.    It’s true that the “librarian isn’t what it used to be,” and perhaps this is the precise time for library and information professionals to grasp the profound changes taking place.   Let’s take a look at a few reasons why:

(1) Evaluation Metrics – A culture of assessment has always been a main staple of the information profession. To promote, to evaluate, to provide value to users. Most libraries measure the value of their reference services, the usage of collections, the number of patrons and users taught in classes, among the many items.  How do we evaluate social media?  How do we measure the impact a reference inquiry on a blog post?  It’s nigh time we become the experts on evaluating social media itself.  We can fill the role of experts on this critical area of information.

(2) Promoting the Physical, Using the Digital – The library (or information centre) has always been about connecting users to the physical space, of promoting its collection (whether print or digital) to its audience, or contributing culturally and humanely to its community.   Historically, it’s done this mainly through print.  Businesses, entrepreneurs, activists, politicians (in no particular order), are all mobilizing social media as their tools for engagement.    We should too.

(3)  Gathering, organizing, and dissemination – At the core of the profession is still an inherent need to do all three things — and do them with precision and recall.  Yet, in the world of digital media, it’s become more interesting to capture the ephemeral nature of “information.”  Social media has great power in assisting us in doing this, but social media has been the source of compounding much of the problems, too.   Last check is that the Web has more than 48 billion pages indexed, and is slowly climbing into the petabytes.     With this said, isn’t it about time librarians start finding ways at controlling and organizing this digital chaos?    Why not?  The Library of Congress has already made the first step.

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“Google doesn’t do social media well.” Discuss.

Ahniwa Ferrari of Washington State Libraries, one of early adopters I met at the Internet Librarian conference last year, passed on this provocative entry from Adam Rifkin’s …ifindkarma… blog, “Pandas and Lobsters: Why Google Cannot Build Social Applications“, which dissects Google’s character as an online megalith and makes the pronouncement that its essential nature precludes its success with social media apps and platforms. Barring YouTube, which it purchased as opposed to developing itself, Google’s track record in creating spaces in which people want to gather and share is pretty dismal.

Personally, I made furtive stabs at Google Wave and Google Buzz, but have found neither anywhere near good enough to replace my other social media tools, or to even use at all. Conversley, I was let in on Google Voice last year and it became my go-to real-time communication tool, after Skype. Proving “Panda’s and Lobsters” thesis that Google makes great tools, not great social connectors.As librarians, we obviously need both, and this post provides some nice insights into how we can evaluate the programs, apps, and platforms that come our way. Understanding the nature of the beast is a large part of successfully making it our pet.