If one accepts Wilson’s statement that users wish to find the text that best suits their need, it would be hard to argue that libraries should not be trying to present the best texts to users. This, however, goes counter to the stated goal of the library catalog as that of bibliographic control, and when the topic of “best” is broached, one finds an element of neutrality fundamentalism that pervades some library thinking. This is of course irreconcilable with the fact that some of these same institutions pride themselves on their “readers’ services” that help readers find exactly the right book for them. The popularity of the readers’ advisory books of Nancy Pearl and social networks like Goodreads, where users share their evaluations of texts, show that there is a great interest on the part of library users and other readers to be pointed to “good books.” How users or reference librarians are supposed to identify the right books for them in a catalog that treats all resources neutrally is not addressed by cataloging theory.
Wilson’s analysis presages the search and retrieval capabilities of Internet search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. He also writes that power of bibliography is greatest if it extends over the entire bibliographic universe, not just a single selection (one universal library as opposed to the local collection); that the user is better served the fewer retrieved items must be reviewed before satisfying the user’s request (as in targeted ranking); and that direct access to the text is a greater power than restrictive use (open access).
Due to the philosophical nature of the book, one has to tease out these brilliant ideas; they are not laid out as headlines or clear conclusions. Yet in the text Wilson may have laid out a new direction for libraries decades before those same principles were discovered by Internet entrepreneurs using new technologies. Imagine if Internet search engines had the same goals as library catalogs and designed their products to cater to only those users who came to the search box knowing either the title or the author of the document they were seeking.
“What difference would it make” is at the core of his philosophy, which was practical, or pragmatic, in its concern for what the consequences of a belief are rather than what its truth is. That is to say, most philosophy is geared toward finding out the existing condition of things. James focused instead on how beliefs shape the world. Rather than ask whether or not God existed, James might try to ascertain what difference belief in God would make to how you live your life or how a society conducts itself. What is the consequence of the belief, rather than the truth of it? It is a deeply American approach, directed toward the malleability rather than the immutability of the world, toward what we make of it, rather than what it is made of. This aspect of Jame’s philosophy is sometimes misinterpreted as a kind of easy solipsism akin to the contemporary New Age motion that we each create our reality (a crass way of overlooking culture, politics, and economics — that is, realities are made, but by groups, movements, ideologies, religions, societies, economics, and more, as well as natural forces, over long stretches of time, not by individuals alone).
Secondly, you’ve probably heard the term “singularity” or “technological singularity.” This term has been used in math to describe an asymptote-like situation where normal rules no longer apply. It’s been used in physics to describe a phenomenon like an infinitely small, dense black hole or the point we were all squished into right before the Big Bang. Again, situations where the usual rules don’t apply. In 1993, Vernor Vinge wrote a famous essay in which he applied the term to the moment in the future when our technology’s intelligence exceeds our own—a moment for him when life as we know it will be forever changed and normal rules will no longer apply. Ray Kurzweil then muddled things a bit by defining the singularity as the time when the Law of Accelerating Returns has reached such an extreme pace that technological progress is happening at a seemingly-infinite pace, and after which we’ll be living in a whole new world. I found that many of today’s AI thinkers have stopped using the term, and it’s confusing anyway, so I won’t use it much here (even though we’ll be focusing on that idea throughout).
Following the scientific community’s lead in striving to describe the physical universe through observations, we adapted the concept of an observation into the bibliographic universe and assert that cataloging is a process of making observations on resources. Human or computational observers following institutional business rules (i.e., the terms, facts, definitions, and action assertions that represent constraints on an enterprise and on the things of interest to the enterprise)5 create resource descriptions — accounts or representations of a person, object, or event being drawn on by a person, group, institution, and so on, in pursuit of its interests.
Given this definition, a person (or a computation) operating from a business rules–generated institutional or personal point of view, and executing specified procedures (or algorithms) to do so, is an integral component of a resource description process (see figure 1). This process involves identifying a resource’s textual, graphical, acoustic, or other features and then classifying, making quality and fitness for purpose judgments, etc., on the resource. Knowing which institutional or individual points of view are being employed is essential when parties possessing multiple views on those resources describe cultural heritage resources. How multiple resource descriptions derived from multiple points of view are to be related to one another becomes a key theoretical issue with significant practical consequences.
Murray, R. J., & Tillett, B. B. (2011). Cataloging theory in search of graph theory and other ivory towers: Object: Cultural heritage resource description networks. Information Technology and Libraries, 30(4), 170-184.
Now, why is it that so many designers have conceived cities as trees when the natural structure is in every case a semilattice? Have they done so deliberately, in the belief that a tree structure will serve the people of the city better? Or have they done it because they cannot help it, because they are trapped by a mental habit, perhaps even trapped by the way the mind works – because they cannot encompass the complexity of a semilattice inany convenient mental form, because the mind has an overwhelming predisposition to see trees wherever it looks and cannot escape the tree conception?I shall try to convince you that it is for this second reason that trees are being proposed and built as cities – that is, because designers, limited as they must be by the capacity of the mind to form intuitively accessible structures, cannot achieve the complexity of the semilattice in a single mental act.
GV: You mentioned “media archeology” and I was wondering if you’re referring to any of Shannon Mattern’s work…
RP: Well, she’s one of the smartest people in the world. What Shannon Mattern does that’s super-interesting is she teaches both urban space and she teaches libraries and archives. And it occurred to me after looking at her syllabi — and I know she’s thought about this a lot, but one model for thinking about archives in libraries — you know, Megan was the creator of the specialized taxonomy for this pace, but in a broader sense, collections are cities. You know, there’s neighborhoods of enclosure and openness. There’s areas of interchange. There’s a kind of morphology of growth which nobody’s really examined yet. But I think it’s a really productive metaphor for thinking about what the specialty archives have been and what they might be. [Mattern’s] work is leading in that position. She teaches a library in her class.
We live today with an abundance of “product”—there are more books than readers who want them, as evidenced by the copious piles on remainder racks at our bookstores. It wasn’t always thus, of course. Before the advent of printing, each copy was unique and there were few of them. Printing brought exact copies, but it also brought editions, as printers throughout Europe produced their own versions of texts. One European intellectual of the 1500s, Conrad Gessner, felt a need to gain some control over this tsunami of works; he set out to create a universal bibliography of all works in print, but not all of the various editions of the works. Gessner’s Bibliotheca Universalis was in part a response to what he saw as wasteful duplication among printers, and he hoped that a list of available works would lead them to concentrate on new works rather than reprinting works already on the market (Serrai and Serrai 2005). Here it can be said that Gessner obviously did not understand the economics of the book trade.
In my research I have not uncovered the tipping point that led library thinkers like Seymour Lubetzky and Eva Verona to take up the question of the work versus the edition. Yet somehow between the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, it appears that the number of different editions in libraries had become burdensome to users. Although it was still essential to distinguish between editions, it also became important to inform the user that a certain group of editions represented the same work. In just a little over one hundred years we had come full swing from presenting users solely with works, then solely with editions, to needing to gather editions back into their work groups.
Given the ongoing and increasing machinization of immaterial modes of production, an attention to the affective nature and labor of technology in life and work and the ways in which it also impacts human subjectivity and gender seems a fruitful new line of inquiry for feminist thinkers concerned with labor issues. If we take up a call to arms to think about life and work and the subjects we wish to become, how might new technologies enhance, augment, or limit our feminist political desires for subjectivities free from domination? In the context of the academic library, how does the disruption of the digital library allow us to rethink and revalorize the subjectivity of the librarian?
Sloniowski, Lisa. “Affective Labor, Resistance, and the Academic Librarian“, Library Trends, Vol. 64, No. 4, 2016 (“Reconfiguring Race, Gender, and Sexuality,” edited by Emily Drabinski and Patrick Keilty), pp. 645–666.
We are careful selectors, nowherenear the “save everything” end of thecontinuum. What’s most interestingto us is to build our own very specificcollection, and in doing so modelways of collection-building that couldbe useful to other people. We wantto embody the idea that everyone canbe their own archivist. If more peoplecarefully chose a collection of evidenceto save, then there would be less ofa need for people to save everything.Libraries like ours can be built byanyone, anywhere. We do have aparticular collecting strategy, but weare just two people.
All new digital services from the government must meet the Digital by Default Service Standard.
All public facing transactional services must meet the standard. It’s used by departments and the Government Digital Service to check whether a service is good enough for public use.
1. Understand user needs
Understand user needs. Research to develop a deep knowledge of who the service users are and what that means for the design of the service.
2. Do ongoing user research
Put a plan in place for ongoing user research and usability testing to continuously seek feedback from users to improve the service.
3. Have a multidisciplinary team
Put in place a sustainable multidisciplinary team that can design, build and operate the service, led by a suitably skilled and senior service manager with decision-making responsibility.
4. Use agile methods
Build your service using the agile, iterative and user-centred methods set out in the manual.
5. Iterate and improve frequently
Build a service that can be iterated and improved on a frequent basis and make sure that you have the capacity, resources and technical flexibility to do so.
6. Evaluate tools and systems
Evaluate what tools and systems will be used to build, host, operate and measure the service, and how to procure them.
7. Understand security and privacy issues
Evaluate what user data and information the digital service will be providing or storing and address the security level, legal responsibilities, privacy issues and risks associated with the service (consulting with experts where appropriate).
8. Make all new source code open
Make all new source code open and reusable, and publish it under appropriate licences (or provide a convincing explanation as to why this can’t be done for specific subsets of the source code).
9. Use open standards and common platforms
Use open standards and common government platforms where available.
10. Test the end-to-end service
Be able to test the end-to-end service in an environment identical to that of the live version, including on all common browsers and devices, and using dummy accounts and a representative sample of users.
11. Make a plan for being offline
Make a plan for the event of the digital service being taken temporarily offline.
12. Create a service that’s simple
Create a service that is simple and intuitive enough that users succeed first time.
13. Make the user experience consistent with GOV.UK
Build a service consistent with the user experience of the rest of GOV.UK including using the design patterns and style guide.
14. Encourage everyone to use the digital service
Encourage all users to use the digital service (with assisted digital support if required) alongside an appropriate plan to phase out non-digital channels and services.
15. Collect performance data
Use tools for analysis that collect performance data. Use this data to analyse the success of the service and to translate this into features and tasks for the next phase of development.
16. Identify performance indicators
Identify performance indicators for the service, including the 4 mandatory key performance indicators (KPIs) defined in the manual. Establish a benchmark for each metric and make a plan to enable improvements.
17. Report performance data on the Performance Platform
Why you should report data and how you’ll be assessed.
18. Test with the minister
Test the service from beginning to end with the minister responsible for it.