Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Junk Drawer

National Geographic has an article on Linnaeus (with some wonderful photographs) on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of his birth. The title of the article is "A Passion for Order," which describes a characteristic of most scientists, but also a significant trait of librarians (though you wouldn't know it to look at *my* desk). One of my courses in library school was titled "Organization of Knowledge." I was surprised to see that there were only two texts, and seriously apprehensive about having to learn how the world's knowledge is systematized in one semester. To my relief, the class concerned the varieties of classification used in libraries, with some emphasis on the LC scheme used in most academic libraries. We also discussed some new systems made possible by advances in database management and expanding internet access.

It seems lately that the organization of stuff, especially information, is a hot topic. Last year, it was Peter Morville's Ambient Findability. David Weinberger gave a 57- minute talk on the Google campus on May 10 on the topic of his new book, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder . The talk is great (I haven't read the book yet-- it's on my desk now.), but I had an issue with some of his comments in the Google talk about librarians, whom he says he admires, and I believe him. He said that librarians (and scientists, shop owners, publishers, everyone) try to order information, a task he sees as futile. He's right, it is futile, and the digital disorder in his subtitle has shown us that. My argument with him is that librarians have figured that out already. We use keywords, hyperlinking, folksonomies, tagging, social networks-- all that stuff. There is still a use for the LC classification and other schemes for print material and non-digital native objects (so we can find their physical selves), but librarians bring at least a representation of them into the disordered digital world via their metadata.

I'm really excited to be a librarian right now. The whole notion of what the library is changes constantly, and it's a lot of work to keep up with students' use of technology and their consequent expectations. Libraries are learning to be more nimble and adapt quickly. At the same time, we realize that most of our users employ only basic strategies with their new electronic tools-- usually just enough to perform a single task. That's where we can help, but more on that later...

No comments: