Fall semester has just begun and I’m on to thinking about “new stuff.” The summer was spent working with mobile web apps and designing online course spaces with Dr. David Loertscher (more on all that in a future post, I hope) and it’s been busy enough that the blog got a little neglected. One thing that did occur is that I’ve moved the blog to a new location. I would encourage you to re-follow or adjust your RSS settings if you enjoy reading what I write. I have an auto-forward put on the site at the old address, but that will only last for one year and the old address will disappear.
One of the two courses that I’m taking this fall is called the Hyperlinked Library and it deals with libraries and library services in a participatory digital world. As such, students each have their own blog over at the course site and will be blogging regularly on topics related to the course material. I’ve decided to cross-post some of the material here as I believe that it may interest at least some of the folks who regularly read my blog. I will categorize these posts as Hyperlinked if you want to look specifically at that set. The first set of posts from there will have to do with course readings and I will take a similar approach to these readings as I did with Spreadable Media here earlier this year.
OK, on to the meat:
Redesigning Library Services is part historical document and part fortune-telling. It was written in 1992 by Michael Buckland as a way of working through issues that were facing libraries at the time. While it distresses me somewhat to refer to anything written during my working life as an historical document, the reality is that library services, through advances in technology, have changed significantly since then. In some ways, looking back in my own life and thinking about my own library use helps me to understand the perspective of the book.
Buckland’s perspective in writing the book is that we must understand the past to be able to think usefully about the future. Most specifically, we must truly understand what he calls the Paper Library to know anything about the Automated Library and make useful predictions about the Electronic Library. Understand that, at the time of his writing, Buckland and his contemporaries were going through the process of automating libraries – making the move from card catalogues to computer based catalogues. I know that I finished my Education degree at UBC in ’92 and the huge card catalogue in the main library still existed and was used extensively.
Much time is given to the discussion of paper and paper libraries. One would think that, especially in the context of a course called The Hyperlinked Library, this would be a droll retelling of ancient history involving monks and quills or worse, ancient Greeks and their scrolls. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The analysis of some of the simplest and most seemingly self-evident aspects of books helps to put “more advanced” technology in perspective and helps to separate form from function. As Buckland points out, “if form should follow function, then concentration on the function should help us anticipate future forms.” In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of the Manifesto is that conjecture about the future forms of library services do occur regularly throughout the book and rarely are there descriptions of these future services that seem ridiculous from our perspective. Keeping in mind that Buckland was writing in ’92, his future is our present and much what of what he describes as possible paths of evolution are descriptions of what are actually happening today. There is rarely that feeling you get when reading cheesy science fiction from the 50s describing a future at the turn of the century where we’ve made contact with alien species (think Space 1999 or the original Flash Gordon.) It is through his analysis and understanding of what is that makes his ideas of what could be so effective and real.
I should explain, for the benefit of those yet to read this book, what defines Paper Libraries, Automated Libraries, and Electronic Libraries. Paper Libraries are those that are made up of entirely physical objects. The items in the collection are physical entities primarily made of paper but also including microforms, audio recordings, film, photos and the like. The organizational system is similarly paper based. Those of a certain age will remember learning to use the card catalogue and hefting huge bibliographic tomes to find out if certain publications existed. The Automated Library has essentially the same physical collection but the navigation of that collection moves to a digital space. Computers are involved in creating the bibliographies, indexes and catalogues of the collections and possibilities for organizing the physical collection become dramatically more advanced. The Electronic Library is one where both the organizing structure and the collection itself exist in the digital realm. One navigates the collection on computers, but one also reads, searches and potentially reworks documents in that same or in a parallel digital space. It should be stated that Buckland does not claim that these types of libraries are entirely independent of each other. Particularly in the case of the Automated and Electronic Libraries, there is room for both to exist and this is where we find ourselves at this point in history.
I’m going to stop now and return in my next post to look at some of the concepts in the book in a little more detail. If you are interested in reading along or delving deeper, Buckland’s Manifesto can be found on his website for free.