The concept of surplus value clearly works well in a marketplace context, where goods and services are exchanged for money in real time, making it easy and intuitive to think in terms of value versus cost. But what relevance does it have in the library context, where services are (or seem to be) provided at no charge?
We all know the story of Procrustes: he was basically the Basil Fawlty of Greek mythology, a terrible hotel owner with a single iron bed. He would invite passersby to spend the night as his guests, and would then either stretch them or cut them to fit the bed. In academic libraries, the temptation to take a similar (if more gentle) approach to our patrons and their research needs is great.
Sometimes I tell people that I’m haunted by the iPod. When it first came out, most of us looked at it and basically said “Oh, how fun; it’s a digital Walkman.” We figured it would do just what a Walkman did—give people an easy and private way to listen to their albums while they walked around—the difference being that it could hold multiple albums at once and the music would be loaded and saved digitally. And that was a perfectly reasonable assessment of the situation; there was no particular reason to expect that the iPod was, in fact, going to take us from an album-based music economy back into a song-based one and thereby massively disrupt the record industry (before giving birth to the iPhone and thereby revolutionizing both mobile computing and the marketplace for telephone services).
Over the past couple of decades, we in libraries have been asking a lot of soul-searching questions about how we can best carry out our functions in a radically changed (and still-changing) information environment. This self-examination has led to many interesting conclusions and some pretty dramatic shifts in the ways libraries do business—almost always in the context of reaffirmations of the library’s core mission and values. Less frequently have we asked ourselves whether the core principles that underlie traditional library service remain relevant and essential in and of themselves.
Place Your Bets, People: Semantic Speech Recognition and the Future of Libraries | Peer to Peer Review
Some years ago, when cellphones were still mostly the province of celebrities and hardcore business travelers, I was walking through an airport and saw a well-groomed and prosperous-looking man engaged in animated conversation with, as far as I could tell, himself. He certainly didn’t seem to be conversing with anyone nearby, anyway. As I (carefully) got closer and continued to watch him talking and gesticulating into the empty social space around him I thought to myself, “That’s interesting; he doesn’t look crazy…”
In my last column, I suggested that librarians’ attachment to the traditional practice of interlibrary loan (ILL) and our desire to extend it into the ebook realm are an example of something like Stockholm Syndrome—an unhealthy and irrational affection for an onerous practice by which we were held captive during the print era. In the past, ILL was necessary because of the limitations of the print format; in the online era, we should be thinking entirely differently about what it means to “share” resources between libraries, and thinking carefully about whether and how doing so actually makes sense.
In libraries, we place a lot of value on sharing. I think the time has come to give that value some critical attention. In the online environment, the concept of “sharing” becomes genuinely problematic—partly because its meaning becomes unclear (let’s call this the semantic problem), and partly because it inevitably means copying (let’s call this [...]
OK, I’ve had it. Too many meetings, too many presentations, too many blog posts, too many think-pieces along the lines of “here’s how to fix ______” (insert your choice of system in crisis: the economy, domestic security, higher education, scholarly communication, the Euro zone, the designated-hitter rule, etc.), all of them breezily touting the same [...]
Recently I attended a lecture by Roger Altizer, the Director of Game Design and Production in the Film and Media Arts Department at the University of Utah, where I work. He talked about a number of very interesting things related to gaming and pedagogy, but one thing in particular really struck me. First, he pointed [...]
In my first column, I touched briefly on an idea that I would like to expand upon here, and then use as a foundational concept for my future columns. It’s the idea of “authentic librarianship.” First of all, though, I have to confess to a mild knee-jerk reaction against the use of the word “authenticity” [...]