Kim Komando’s link of the day and libraries

Nationally syndicated tech radio talk show host, Kim Komando’s download of the day is Zotero. Personally, I am a big fan of Zotero so I am happy to see it getting some love. However, one of the things she writes in her short blurb about the download is:

Research used to be done in the dark stacks of a library. Archived news stories were stored on microfiche. […] Today, the Web holds all the information you could want.

Librarians will know that not all archived news stories are available in digital format, and many that are come with subscription fees. Yes, there is more information available at your desktop and Zotero is an excellent tool to organize it, but to say that all the (research) information you could want is available on the Web has no basis in reality – yet many people seem to think that it is.

While today’s libraries provide more then just access to information and IMO would still be valuable even if all information were freely available on the Web, librarians need to realize what some influential people are saying and be prepared to counter those claims. We need to be able to make a case to our stakeholders, whether they be voters and elected politicians in the case of public libraries, or faculty and administration in academic libraries, that we are a) providing information that people can not get elsewhere, and b) that we provide valuable services around that information. We can’t just lament or criticize people like Kim Komando for not knowing this, we need to educate them.

On Libraries and the Public Spehere

One of the major reasons I became interested enough in the concept of Libraries and Democracy (well, besides being a librarian and a fan of democracy), is the work of John Buschman. In particular, his book “Dismantling the Public Sphere Situating and Sustaining Librarianship in the Age of the New Public Philosophy.” While I am sure that I will use that book as one of my sources for the paper I’m presenting at the Networking Democracy? New Media Innovations in Participatory Politics symposium, for those who are interesting in a short introduction into Buschman’s work in this area, should read his article, On Libraries and the Public Sphere, that appeared in Library Philosophy and Practice Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring 2005).

On Libraries and the Public Sphere is the text of an address that Buschman gave at Rider University and does a good job of introducing the role that Libraries can, and should, play in public discourse. One thing I think that should stand out to librarians from this address is:

If information and its related sets of critical skills are as important to economic and political participation as we keep insisting, then what information we produce, how we keep it, what we keep, and how it is absorbed or not are crucial questions in our culture – and libraries are important (if undervalued) institutions in this.

I think most people will recognized that in order to have a strong democracy, the electorate needs to be informed. Libraries can, and have in the past, played an important role in this. After all, we are in an information economy so information organizations should be seen as important. For those not familiar with the concept of the public sphere, Buschman explains it in terms of the philosopher Jurgen Habermas’s work. Habermas asked how and why democratic governments come out of closed political systems that were based on the divine rights of kings. Buschman explains that Habermas’s answer is that a a “sphere if non-governmental opinion making” developed from the marcantile economies of northern Europe. As people gathered in new urban places such as coffee houses political conversations took place. These were assisted, or informed, by the intellectual press of the day. This caused two crucial things happened:

  1. Opinion became communicated and recorded outside of a small group of family and friends.
  2. The principle that in order for (governmental) power to become legitimate, its proceedings need to be made public.

Buschman then goes on to relate how libraries are a part of Habermas’s definition of the public sphere:

  • Libraries house and further rational discourse through the organization of collections coupled with the principle of unfettered information access.
  • The field enacts the principle of critique and rational argumentation through the commitment to balanced collections, preserving them over time, and furthering inclusion through active attempts to make collections and resources reflect historical and current intellectual diversity.
  • By their very existence libraries potentially verify (or refute) claims to authority in making current and retrospective organized resources available to check the bases of a thesis, law, book, article, policy etc. continuing the process of debate which lies at the heart of the public sphere and democracy.
  • By policy and practice, [librarianship] has sought to reach out to those not served – or sometimes not wishing to be served! – to make access to information and education more widely and universally available.

Thus, Buschman believes that libraries have a fundamental connection to the needs of democracy and “when we debate information and communication and the future of libraries, we’re debating democracy by other means.” Librarians should keep this democratic role in mind when making decisions involving the procurement and preservation of materials. By competing with big box bookstores, libraries risk evacuating their historical polices of public purpose, broad representation, and fairness in exchange for an immediate payoff for the institution.

Buschhman says that truly informed debate “remains the essence of both education and democracy and libraries play a pivotal role in both.” Librarians and the people who run the parent organizations of libraries such as local governments and universities would do well to keep this in mind when making decisions regarding libraries. Society can afford the public mission and the democratic good that libraries can offer and we need to ensure that potential is preserved

Open Societies Need Open Systems

The BBC News Web site had an interesting column by Bill Thompson yesterday titled “Open Societies need open systems.” The subtitle, “Openness, like democracy, must be constantly defended, says Bill Thompson” basically acts as a partial abstract as well. In this article he looks at Amazon’s disagreement with Macmillan that resulted in Amazon briefly de-listing all Macmillan stock and removing it from its indexes and the Apple/Adobe keruffle of Flash on the iPhone and soon to be released iPad.

I’m not quite sure how the Amazon/Macmillian dispute effects Democracy, or Openness for that matter, but it does go to show that highly successful retailers such as Amazon and Walmart can make it more or less difficult for a producer of a product to get it in the hands of consumer. Amazon, no doubt, felt that by trying to prevent different pricing for e-books it was helping the consumer (and thus it’s self) but obviously authors like Charlie Stross quoted in the article as saying “Amazon [has] screwed me, and I tend to take that personally, because they didn’t need to do that” saw it differently.

The Apple and Adobe situation I see differently, and while I do believe that while Apple is looking out for its own corporate interests, Apple also does want more Openness on the Web. As a company with a minority operating system share, the more open the Web is the better chance they have to compete. Adobe, on the other hand wants to, as Thompson puts it, “close off the web to non-Flash content.” While Apple, with its stance on DRM and other issues, has not always been a strong supporter of Openness, I believe in this case they are squarely on the side of Openness by support HTML5 and H.264 over continuing to enable the proprietary Adobe Flash format to be the de facto standard for video on the Web. Thus I find it a bit odd that Thompson appears to be supporting Adobe on this issue. Thompson says:

Just as we must work to retain our democratic forms of government in the face of adversity, so we must constantly be alert for those who would remove open systems in the name of efficiency and effectiveness.

He may be right that not installing Flash on the iPhone and iPad is in Apple’s best interest but I don’t see it as anti-Openness. Sometimes Openness and corporate interests can align, and I believe in this particular case Apple is on the side of Openness and Adobe is on the side of a closed, proprietary Web. At the very least, even if Apple is not a friend of Openness, neither is Adobe. Proprietary technologies and formats as de facto Web standards are a much greater threat to Openness than devices that don’t support them.

In looking at this issue from a Democracy 2.0 and access to information situation, libraries need to be aware of potential problems with proprietary formats and what devices can and will support them. If librarians believe that access to information is important for democracy, we need to make sure when we acquire (via licensing or purchasing) that the content is in a format that will be accessible to out patrons now and into the future.

Libraries, the Public Sphere, and Democracy 2.0

I recently learned that the extended abstract I submitted to “Networking Democracy: New Media Innovations in Participatory Politics’ Symposium” has been accepted. The conference is going to be held at the BabeÅŸ-Bolyai University, Romania at the end of June. Needless to say, I am very excited. My presentation is titled the same as this blog post, Libraries, the Public Sphere, and Democracy 2.0. Like all good things, there is a downside. Now that my abstract has been accepted, I have to write a paper that is up to 7,000 words long.

While I am knowledgeable about the subject (especially the “Libraries” part) there is still a lot of research I need to do for this paper. I remember back in graduate school I was asked to make annotated bibliographies for some of the papers I wrote. I am going to do this as I do my research, along with taking out a few of the quotes I may want to use. Typically when I have done this in the past I used my favorite text editor. However this time there is going to be a twist. With this post I am creating a new blog category, democracy2.0. I will be posting my annotated bibliography (and related notes) as I research and prepare my paper on this blog.

I hope readers find this interesting. I believe it will be for most of my readers (or at least my perception of who reads this – librarians and open source/free software proponents). If not, please just mark them as read as you find them in your e-reader. As you would imagine, I did a lot of research before submitting my extended abstract, so I will also be posting my notes from some of my previous research as well as new research. I should add, what I post will be parts of my scholarly process and not necessarily points I agree or disagree with and they may or not make it into my final paper. It should be noted this is a bibliography with a specific purpose: to help me write a specific paper on a specific topic. Thus these collections of posts are not to be comprehensive, so please don’t assume it is. Still, I think it could be useful to others with similar interests.

Although my purpose for doing this is not to solicit feedback on what I’m reading or researching, if reading my posts makes you think of related ideas or articles (especially scholarly ones), please feel free to comment and share.