The Vision of Librarians

OK, here’s my last gripe about Everything is Miscellaneous, a fantastic book by David Weinberger. I realize that this might be nit, but I’d like to point it out anyway: Weinberger contends that in the past physical formats of information limited the vision of librarians and information professionals.

Yes and no.

Many paper-bound information specialists and librarians had plenty of vision. Take Raganathan. He was able to see organization completely independent of the media that represents it, well before the electronic computer. By pointing out his genius many times in the book, Weinberger contradicts himself. Or look at the work of Paul Otlet. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about him: “His vision of a great network of knowledge was centered on documents and included the notions of hyperlinks, search engines, remote access, and social networks—although these notions were described by different names.” Then there’s Eugene Garfield, who created a reverse citation index in the early 60s–well before library automation.

The point is that the vision was apparently there in many instances. Sure, there were limitations in implementation, but there are in the digital world too.

I believe it was the GOALS of librarians that limited their foresight. Namely, library systems were created by librarians and primarily for librarians. They are traditionally very content-centered and not user-centered. For instance, what library patron really cares about the dimensions of a book or CD when searching for information? Yet this information is meticulously recorded by librarians as a rule of thumb. The bottom line is that libraries simply are not user-friendly systems.

Perhaps this is subtle and not-so-clear distinction, but one that still exists in my opinion: the vision was there, but the goals were off. Maybe this is what Weinberger was expressing, or maybe it’s really the same thing. In any event, there were visionaries in information organization before the digital world took over, as Weinberger himself points out.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL

One comment

  1. Pingback: Information Review does not care for it, but Lucy at Over the Backyward eFence does | Everything is Miscellaneous

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