A fragmented landscape
of theory and practice

… when confronted by a ‘partial and shallow’ approach in ‘a fragmented and often naïve theoretical landscape, largely disconnected from an implementation landscape of constant invention, reinvention and improvisation’, I might be best served to supplement gaps in my LIKM scholarship by looking to a ‘mature, inter-connected theoretical base’ in ‘economics and social theory’, and maybe philosophy and politics as well.

INN533 – Information Organisation

Final reflections on INN533 journal activities and the unit as a whole.

A common thread running through the INN533 journal activities is the concept of ‘users’, whose needs, we are told, should supersede all other considerations (see, for example, Batley, 2005, p. 24). However, my week two and four journal activities, featuring the New York Museum of Modern Art and various city councils around Australia, seemed to suggest these institutions completely ignored the user mantra. They structured access to their online data in ways that pre-supposed expertise in art, or knowledge of council administrative and revenue-raising priorities.

My second two journal activities focused on information resource description and classification. Hider and Harvey adopted a signal tone in the LIS/information/knowledge management (LIKM) literature, asserting that ‘many studies’ tell us fundamental characteristics of library catalogue users, but admitting ‘we’ don’t know ‘enough’ (2008, p. 9); they did not refer specifically to any of the ‘many’ studies. The ones I’ve come across in 80 or so articles and book chapters are all small-scale examinations of niche users like students (Pearson & Pearson, 2007, pp. 820-821) or rocket scientists (Arling & Chun, 2011, p.236). Zabel and Miller made it clear that in the development of the AACR2 replacement, RDA and FRBR, ‘no studies of users were involved in defining’ the user tasks that inform the new rules (2011, p. 220).

Almost no mention is made in the LIKM literature of how those who control resources determine what information retrieval features are actually made available to users. This lacuna points to a conspicuous gap between what is said in the literature and what I can observe in professional practice.

The final journal activity, about user tagging and ‘folksonomies’, is the most intriguing. It appears to carry with it all the promise and glamour of the Facebook, Google and Twitter success stories, but as a factor in usability it is an unproven method. The success of the Silicon Valley titans comes from profit related to creating ‘user wants’ by pushing commercial messages rather than accommodating ‘user needs’.

Most LIKM writers avoid acknowledging the influence and effects of the exploitive political economy on which the Silicon Valley tech glamour is based. It is particularly dismaying to witness Australian librarians talk about embracing the methods of an economic system directly hostile to libraries in the US (see, for example, Ulaby, 2013). Along that route lies only the eventual privatisation of libraries, and not only in the US.

Considering the journal activities as a whole, and in the context of INN533 more generally, my impression is of an LIKM literature and mindset willfully divorced from practical realities for professionals.

In the words of knowledge management professional Patrick Lambe, when confronted by a ‘partial and shallow’ approach in ‘a fragmented and often naïve theoretical landscape, largely disconnected from an implementation landscape of constant invention, reinvention and improvisation’, I might be best served to supplement gaps in my LIKM scholarship by looking to a ‘mature, inter-connected theoretical base’ in ‘economics and social theory’ (pp. 178, 194), and maybe philosophy and politics as well.

References

Arling, P.A., & Chun, M.W.S., (2011). Facilitating new knowledge creation and obtaining KM maturity. Journal of Knowledge Management, 15(2), 231-250. doi: 10.1108/13673271111119673

Batley, S. (2005). Classification in Theory and Practice. Oxford, UK: Chandos.

Hider, P., & Harvey, R. (2008). Organising Knowledge in a Global Society. Wagga Wagga, NSW: Charles Sturt University Press.

Ulaby, N. (2013, August 19). For you to borrow, some libraries have to go begging. NPR. Retrieved on October 28, 2013, from http://www.npr.org/

Zabel, D., & Miller, L. (2011). Resource Description and Access (RDA). Reference & User Services Quarterly, 50(3), 216-222. doi: 10.5860/rusq.50n3

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