The Changing Role of Librarians in a Networked, Digital Environment


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Gave this talk as the Dorothy M. Cooper Lecture in May 2009 at the Pratt School of Information & Library Science

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  • This is a badass collection of images, Josh, even out of context. My favorite is the regalia-clad library patriarchs milling around before an academic ceremony. In my mind, I instantly contrasted them with the radical reference workers who staff a 'Castro Ambassador' card table outside of the subway here in my neighborhood.
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  • - For the past few hundred years, libraries have been most closely identified with paper, bound books.
    - libraries as institutions are deeply structured around needs of paper management
    - On one hand, libraries were a necessary consequence of needs of paper (scholars aggregated around books, and universities followed)
  • Now we’re finding that demand from our users, as well as the supply of materials, is shifting to electronic resources.

    Most advanced in academic libs; landscape about to shift dramatically with google books
  • We get hung up on the format shift, but there’s a potentially even more important shift happening in the business model of how libraries build their collections.

    Traditionally, libraries purchased books and other materials in a straightforward transaction.
  • - In the digital realm, there is *no such thing* as outright purchase.
    - Because information and its medium have been disentangled (binary code as electrons on a disk isn’t like ink on a page)...
    - We enter into licensing agreements to access the information; standard property law doesn’t apply.
    - IP != property; we have laws to try to make it seem that way, but it just isn’t (if I take a book from you, you don’t have the book anymore. If I take a file from you, you still have the original unless you delete it.
    - Kindle is great example - closed distribution chain, proprietary device, no owner rights (all contract law)
  • DRM - need to create technical systems to make bitstreams work like physical property.
  • The first talking point when in discussions like this is often fair use.
  • Enclosure of fair use by contract law.
  • However, I’d like to talk about a different issue, the right of first sale.
  • Our ability to circulate collections is based on right of first sale.
  • Video store example.
  • First sale also empowers us to care for and preserve our collections
  • Problems of digital preservation compounded by fact that once we’ve shifted to licensing our collections rather than owning them, our preservation mission gets problematic.

    (DMCA prohibition on cracking DRM)

    Serious work to be done to figure out how to reconcile licensing regime with long-term preservation.
  • Shift gears and talk about access and discovery
  • sea of information

    problem is managing ubiquity, not scarcity
  • alongside shift from buying atoms to leasing bits, something important has happened with regard to how we understand and interact with information. In short, we’ve gone from this:
  • to...
  • this
  • [Yahoo vs. Google]

    Now, while the difference here is easily summed up with a facile sort of Yahoo vs. Google comparison, there’s actually something much deeper going on. We could just as easily be talking about:
  • taxonomic classification, where a huge amount of work is put into developing ontologies and then fitting individual items into categories.
  • Think of the way you use a library card catalog (not the electronic kind, which many still refer to as a card catalog, but rather the old-fashioned, room-filling drawers of cards) - you find something by first looking at the whole, then focusing down to a particular subset of the whole, and then browse through until you find a particular item.

    We’ve moved from this very active engagement with the overall universe of items to a new paradigm, which reduces the card catalog to a single search box.
  • If you start looking for them, search boxes are more or less everywhere. Virtually any online resource offers an up-front search of its collections, and one of the biggest trends in personal computer design is to build search capabilities deeper and deeper into the operating system itself (though, at a lower level, bytestreams are still stored in a heirarchical filesystem).
  • Using a search interface is a dramatically different practice than using a card catalog - rather than taking in the whole and then deliberately winnowing down, search works more like a fishing trawler; you set the net according to certain parameters, and then you just drag it through the water. Everything that matches the search conditions comes up, and everything else might as well not exist.
  • This new paradigm is based on the simple assumption that we have enough processing power to sift through the haystack to find a particular needle on the fly.

    Simply, it’s a shift from spatial to algorithmic modes of discovery.

    Based on formal features of the texts, not metadata. More data, the better...
  • The world is messy.
  • Categorizing the world’s messiness reifies a certain kind of order, making the world seem as though the categorization was innate, flowing from its essential properties. However. the schema is inherently visible, and thus at least in principle unpackable.
  • Search, on the other hand, takes the messiness
  • of the world and quite literally
  • ...reduces it to an ordered list of discrete items.

    What search does is to decontextualize, drilling down quickly and deeply to the micro level without giving you a chance to see where the individual results fit within the whole.
  • Nissenbaum on politics of search engines
  • Catalog was for organization, but particularly access
  • often, people ask this question.

    if search is based on full-text, and we’re licensing those materials, do we even need to bother with cataloging?
  • The integrity of a collection item is no longer even relevant - what happened to the CD is about to happen to books; breaking down into constituent parts.

    FRBR - the borges map of the world that lays over the real geography.
  • This is the landscape:
    - we increasingly lease rather than own our collections
    - the systems that actually present our collections to users are proprietary, closed and usually not interoperable
    - our users are drowning in information, and think that a google search is all they need
  • One of the great myths of the digital age is that if you give a user a search box, he or she will know what to do with it.

    Simply teaching people how to find and use the resources already licensed.
  • Given that list of search results, how do you make clear to your users what’s not shown, while trying to show more at the same time.
  • Not a rah-rah library 2.0 perspective.

    2.0 talk is usually kind of precious - tool-focused

    Exploit tools to engage users.
  • blog: expose staff expertise; use for search and user experience
  • ~ 50 staf members blogging
  • got together and brainstomed ways of connecting our resources with her audience
  • Youtube ~ 50% viewed on Youtube, ~40 on D*S, ~10% elsewhere
  • For 4th episode, wanted to see how engaged this community was.
  • This will increasingly will become part of the job. In fact, it already is part of the job.
  • Lessons to be learned from university (faculty) and
  • museums (curators)
  • - Professional identity and work of librarians is shifting; Entrepreneurial, proactive, evangelism
    - Digital can’t just be in the “digital group” silo; it *must* permeate organization.
    - Actively permissive policy - yes until no, rather than no until yes
    - Systems need to weave together collections and curation
  • - New environments for work
    - Erica Firment
    - Need for new job categories within libraries to actually hire this talent, supporting more tailoring to local audiences (UX design, user analysis, production)
  • We’re facing one of those moments of change; it’s happening right now, starting with our collections, and we need to adapt our work accordingly.
  • The Changing Role of Librarians in a Networked, Digital Environment

    1. 1. The Changing Role of Librarians in a Networked, Digital Environment Josh Greenberg Director, Digital Strategy and Scholarship The New York Public Library
    2. 2. Print books
    3. 3. Electronic resources
    4. 4. Purchase
    5. 5. Licensing 3091198541/
    6. 6. DRM 347292147/
    7. 7. Fair Use
    8. 8. 99759267@N00/2196389654/
    9. 9. First Sale
    10. 10. Circulation 3091198541/
    11. 11. Preservation of atoms
    12. 12. Preservation of Bits
    13. 13. Access
    14. 14. ocean
    15. 15. vs.
    16. 16. vs.
    17. 17. vs.
    18. 18. vs.
    19. 19. vs.
    20. 20.
    21. 21. Messiness
    22. 22. M e s i e s n s s
    23. 23. Messiness
    24. 24.
    25. 25. "Defining the Web: The Politics of Search Engines" IEEE Computer, January 2000, 54-62.
    26. 26. Cataloging for access 3190926784/
    27. 27. Is cataloging necessary?
    28. 28. Whither librarians?
    29. 29. How to facilitate
    30. 30. Teach Search Literacy
    31. 31. Exploit the system
    32. 32. 2.0
    33. 33. So?
    34. 34. 201911632/
    35. 35.
    36. 36. 2595537494/
    37. 37. T-Centennial-Hand-Cranking-1600x1200.jpg
    38. 38. 2008/automechanic.jpg
    39. 39. 87b.jpg
    40. 40. In-n-out image_gallery/historical/ first_corporate_restaurant.html
    41. 41. anniversary/carnegie/ pre-1950CarnegieLibrarians.jpg.html