Daily Archives: September 12, 2007

Peering at the Library from the Outside

[Note: I am pleased to introduce Lanny Arvan, my colleague at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who sometimes comments on ACRLog and who is always one of my top choices for a Friday afternoon coffee to explore issues related to higher education, libraries, education technologies, campus politics, and other important topics. We shared the experience of the Frye Leadership Institute in 2003. We don't always agree - but that doesn't worry us much. I hope ACRLog readers are as challenged by Lanny's perspective as I am. Lisa Hinchliffe]

Peering at the Library from the Outside
Lanny Arvan

An economist is a surgeon with an excellent scalpel and a rough-edged lancet, who operates beautifully on the dead and tortures the living.
- Nicholas Chamfort (1741 – 1794)

I’m an economist. I’m also a learning technologist. This bit is about how I see the Library dilemma. In my learning technology role I’ve been on a variety of committees with Librarians and have participated with them in writing several different white papers on new Library services and on new partnerships where the Library is a player. I know our world views are far apart. Perhaps we can bring our perspectives closer together.

Economists maintain two different approaches in thinking about dynamics. One is Hysterisis – the entire time path until the present matters. The other is Markovian; all that matters is the current state. From what I know about Librarians, the vast majority of them both believe in and practice seriously hysterisis about their Library work. The rest of us, however, are Markovians, particularly with regard to our own publishing and information needs.

This post was motivated by another, written by Dorothea on talking about institutional repositories and that they are broken. I served on a committee for my campus institutional repository before the project got off the ground and during the gestation of the then fledgling pilot. I can report faithfully that all the Librarians in the group had what seemed – to me at least – a bizarre fascination with preservation. That was their raison d’être and how they saw what the repository brought to the table regarding digital publishing.

As a sometime creator of digital information, my interest is elsewhere – on discovery. I want others to find my stuff and then I want them to think it is important – but I do recognize the later is my problem as the writer/creator. Should it also be my problem to become expert on making my stuff discoverable? Why can’t I get consultation from Librarians on a do-it-right approach to getting others to find my stuff? Specifically focusing on repositories, do they help with that and in a way that’s obvious to me?

My current understanding of the discovery issue is that it is complex and idiosyncratic to the particular researcher/creator. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, even if there are guidelines for good practice. Metaphorically, consultation of the type I have in mind means the Librarian comes to me. That is what I need. For it to occur more broadly, with my need simply as a way to introduce the broader concern, we should have Librarians as consultants acting in a distributed manner across the disciplines. The Librarians would work as collaborators with the researcher/creators on the end-to-end strategy for managing their personal collections. Making the content discoverable would be a big part of the strategy.

Instead, in what I read about where Libraries should be heading, in writings by Librarians themselves, there is, first, the discussion of the Library as a place within which scholars accumulate and, second, the discussion of the importance of the digital collections Libraries provide. My needs as creator of information aren’t really addressed with either of those. Why not address the need to make my work discoverable? Indeed, why not make that the centerpiece of what the Library does?

So, Librarians, consider yourselves lanced. I hope it isn’t too painful and further that the outside in view helps inform where indeed you do head.