UoL Library Blog

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Shirky & Librarianship

Posted by selinalock on 19 August, 2008

Close-up Dodo!So, I’ve just finished reading Here Comes everybody: the power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky. (see amazon & UoL library) and I’ll be doing several posts about ideas discussed in the book.

Shirky argues that a scarcity of resources creates a profession, for example, librarianship developed as a profession due to there being few libraries and many users.

With regards to newspapers he also argues that they don’t yet realise that they’ve become obselete as “the web didn’t introduce a new competitor into the old ecosystem…the web created a new ecosystem”. The same argument can be applied to librarianship, as the web has totally transformed the way people get information. It is no longer a scare resource that requires professionals to organise it in order for people to access it.

Not a new concept to librarians, as we’ve been arguing over whether our profession is dying for at least the last decade! However, I find it interesting that one of the main thrusts of Here Comes Everybody is the way that internet applications are completely changing the information and communication culture, which is obviously going to impact on how and what our jobs are.

“The more an institution or industry relies on information as it’s core product, the greater and more complete the change will be.”

I think in the forseeable future there will still be a place for traditional librarian skills, as we will still need people to organise and care for our print collections…but what about those of us whoose users are rapidly moving away from print and library resources?

Shirky argues that in the past the price of print publishing meant there was always a systems of filter then publish, with the net the system has become publish then filter. Where do librarians fit into the new system? Have we become obselete without noticing?

4 Responses to “Shirky & Librarianship”

  1. gazjjohnson said

    Our roles might have, but then I’ll happily turn my hand to something else. Content creation for one is an area librarians are good at, but then bury deep on their hardrives rather than sharing with the world. Just think how many times we create guides, help pages, rooms etc rather than reusing quality content…

    Oh and how do we find quality content? Well i’d ask a librarian cos they might just recognise it…

  2. sarahw9 said

    I think in answer to the question ‘have librarians become obselete?’, most people (under the age of say roughly 45) would say ‘yes’ without hesitating…

    But lots of librarians are more than happy to reinvent themselves – most just want to do a good / useful / interesting job….

    Are we talking about librarians in academic libraries / role of public libraries /
    or information people working in a library in a company… There are probably quite alot of roles for people who have the skills librarians (are supposed) to have such as assimilating / organising ideas, writing material, from a user perspective. Lots of other people have these skills too, so I’m not sure how distinct they are to the librarian profession. This all sounds very familiar – hardly new territory as you say. Should librarians make the most of their ‘brand’ image, meaning associated vaguely in the public mind with scholarship / quality? Unfortunately librarians also have an image of being stuffy, bureaucratic, pedantic, self important, out of touch, unfriendly…

    In terms of web2 then I expect our biggest problem is getting out from the rules and regulations

    OK I’d better read this book asap its been sitting on my shelf (along with many others).

    I’m rambling – had better go and read the book.

    The good thing about the web and web2 is it gives us a chance to do so many new things!!!!

  3. ajcann said

    So … if SMT has a problem with “putting things on the library website”, is it acceptable to direct users to other services offsite which might enhance the library site?

  4. sarahw9 said

    Need a ‘library without walls’ approach – get back to thinking what is a library for?

    Perhaps need to push that approach to sceptical people?

    I think we can definately direct users to services offsite – as long as approved…

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