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LIS 950: Libraries and community

The purpose of this seminar is to explore an important topic in library and information studies in depth — in all its intertwined historical, cultural, philosophical, and political aspects — through a graduate reading/discussion seminar. The topic varies each time the course is taught; this time around, we will focus on "libraries and community"

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Seminar Paper

Hello everyone,

Is everyone else as stressed as me about finishing the Seminar Paper?

Well, I just finished my data collection, so that's something to cheer about! Now, I just have to analyze it and write everything up. YIKES!


Friday, December 02, 2005

Comment on This Week's Book

I really enjoyed learning about the recent history of public libraries, technologies and funding in the 1980s and 1990s; I was so busy with life in these decades that I missed some of these happenings. However, I agree with Bridget that the book seemed to be just warming up, just getting started..... and then it ends. I'm waiting for the sequel.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Problems with Molz and Dain

This book just does not sit well with me. Of all of the books, we have read this one causes me the most trouble due to the non-critical analysis of grant funding and federal funding for libraries. Molz and Dain never spend too much time looking at the potential downside for either funding source.

Only once in the book is there a table of library transactions but it only covers 1965 and 1968 (20). What has happened with library transactions between 1969 and 1998? Molz and Dain never present what has happend.

Is a "seamless web of community information" the future of the library?

This has been a reoccurring theme in a number of our readings this semester:

A current trend in public library rhetoric, and in practice in certain libraries, is to leverage resources and capabilities and strengthen community usefulness and status by entering into partnership with local community organizations and institutions to serve a variety of community needs, most notably through electronic information systems. This approach, as we have noted, also reflects the growth of communitarian thinking and of the new community networks and informs the attitudes of foundations and groups interested in public libraries, as is documented in several reports. The Benton Foundation’s Buildings, Books, and Bytes: Libraries and Communities in the Digital Age concludes that public libraries, to remain viable, should be involved in creating " new life forms" in which they " team up with other public service information providers to form community education and information networks open and available to all" in a " seamless web of community information."

This idea of the seamless web of community information is not that far-fetched. If the argument for sustaining libraries as a viable part of the community is tied directly to community partnerships . . . then I believe that libraries are well positioned to sustain and perpetuate this idea of seamless community.

Check out Madison's Public Library’s community section:


What entities are better situated to provide the community information integration as the above quote suggests? What makes a library community web site important . . . maybe even essential to the community?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Disintermediation and more

Blaire, thank you for your thoughtful questions. I just finished reading Civic Space
Cyberspace and typing up a grumpy essay about how this book even though recent is already historical. It seems so hopeful -- even naively so -- about the role of libraries in the electronic era but not really dealing with what I see as vast changes in the role of libraries and librarians. I do think the idea of disintermediation is a crucial one, which has many continuing implications for all kinds of libraries. I haven't read The Social Life of Information but will try to get it and read it (right after I finish "The Myth of the Paperless Office"). Have others read The Social Life of Information? If so, how do you think it relates to the issues of what it is to be a library/librarian as we move further into the computer age?

One thing I did like about Civic Space/Cyberspace was the discussion of the impact of government policies and funding on the development of libraries in the dawn of the computer era (and before the issues raised by the Patriot Act). Government policies and funding is an aspect that I think has had a considerable and continuing impact on many aspects of libraries but we have not talked about it much. Hopefully this will open some further discussion about this aspect.

And, can those who know about the issues in Wisconsin about Google instead of librarians talk about them a little bit more? This is so interesting! Reminds me so much of the visit from the delegation of state legislators we had back in Minnesota a few years ago, after which it was announced that there would be no funding available for any kind of library building or shelving, since there were not going to be any more books being published! How do librarians deal with the myths of the computer era effectively?


On Cyberspace

This book provides a list of many useful facts, and more on what lies ahead in the future of the librarian. From the book, I can see how to structure and link the contents of the book to existent issues on LIS, users, and the librarian. As Bundy says, “is this too much, or too little”, I very much agree since there might be no ultimate or final answers to the questions of our future, but at least there might be a degree of balance or appropriateness of us and factors in the construction of the “information age” environment. I think the idea of Memex, in the history, is a good start that leads to consideration of how information could be treated; and I think it brings to me the idea of a “one-stop service” in the library.

I am very interested in Technological changes and their influences. I think technological changes have impacts on librarians, users, information, environment, lifestyles, and many other things. “Cyberspace”, as one of the results by technological changes, expands the territory of the library from its physical setting to an online setting. I am wondering if all librarians need to acquire knowledge, skills, and understanding of this dynamic and technology-oriented information environment, or if the technological changes branch our fields broader and further to more alternatives of interests for the librarian and researchers. I am thinking about factors interplay in this arena – (1) technological changes, (2) communication channels, (3) containers of information, (4) the circulation and/or flow of information (5) users’ (or people’s) activities, needs, and capabilities, (6) the librarian, and, might include, (7) public involvement and library outreaches. Moreover, if technological changes affect people and create a new community, does this circumstance need standards to frame activities people do? I am thinking about the law or a policy for online activities. Do we need them, and if so, how much? How can the librarian help motivate users to participate in a virtual community while promoting values of appropriate online use among users? I am thinking that the promotion of a sense of community and of public involvement to the community in a real setting has already been a difficult task, and it can be much harder in the cyberspace.

Civic space/Cyberspace

I thought that maybe the book was just getting warmed up, setting the stage, but I'm almost finished and it still has that feel to it. It's sort of like a long list of facts. I'm looking for more connections between the facts and concepts.

It is interesting how differently the authors perceive the Marketing/Customer issue compared to Buschmann.

The questions posted earlier are great questions, but I feel like the text is so distant from actual libraries -- with so much talk about legislation etc. that it didn't bring up those same "what is the future of librarianship" questions for me. So I don't have any answers yet. Maybe the last chapter and a half will be illuminating.

The Future Role of Librarians?

In Civic Space / Cyberspace, the authors wrestle with the role(s) of librarians in the (as put below) "new universe of global digital information:"

as Marilyn Gell Mason, director of the Cleveland Public Library, expresses it. A century ago, in another time of profound economic and industrial transformation, librarians collected and organized the products of mass publishing spawned by industrialized economies and brought these publications to a newly educated populace and expanding scholarly community. At the end of the twentieth century, librarians could, the argument went, act similarly in a new universe of global, evanescent, unmonitored digital information. Although the situation is fluid and not without problems, libraries are working at fulfilling this prophecy. "Disintermediation"— that is, the elimination of a helper or intermediary between information source and user— has no doubt occurred as people learned to find what they wanted by themselves (as some always did), but it has not occurred to the point of spelling the end of library service, as alternative scenarios projected. In fact, there is a growing demand for librarians to manage information systems, and in nontraditional (read nonlibrary) as well as traditional settings.

This idea of Disintermediation comes out of the work of John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid at Xerox PARC and UC-Berkeley and is discussed in detail in The Social Life of Information. The Special Libraries Association did an interview with John Seely Brown and asked several questions specific to this idea of Disintermediation and the new role of the librarian.


Here is an excerpt from that interview:

IO: You've touched on this point already, but I was struck by a particular phrase and I'd like you to comment on it. You wrote, "it is becoming increasingly clear that libraries are less collections than useful selections that gain their usefulness as much by what they exclude as what they hold." I read that and I thought it sounded very much like the definition of a special library. What do you think?

JSB: I think as we move forward, the role of the librarian is going to have to be re-thought, and I think it can be re-thought in a way that the librarian--special collection or otherwise—takes on a more central role as a "knowledge intermediary," by working to create knowledge in the right form, at the right time, for the right purpose, and by eliminating what is not critical. A knowledge intermediary is also the one who has integrated enough fragments of knowledge into something that provides the root for making the selections, and knowing how to render that selection in its most meaningful way.

As PhD students in this field, how do the above statements fit with your vision of the future practice of librarians?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Discussion Questions for Civic Space / Cyberspace

In Civic Space / Cyberspace the authors make various claims supporting the (past, present and future) roles played by public libraries and librarians in the “Information Age.” This is not limited to but includes:

• Digitization
• Preservation
• Free unrestricted access from censorship
• Guidance to “best” sources
• Selection, authenticity and quality control
• Rare or out of mainstream collections
• Privacy and confidentiality
• Neutral physical location
• Multilingual services
• Children’s services

Is this too much, or too little? Are all of these simply at the core of public librarianship? Should public libraries try cut some services and focus on only some of these aspects in the future? Should the library being trying to offer more services? Are there other services that the library should focus on (add to the above list)?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Some thoughts from Building, Books, and Bytes:

I think the BBB article is interesting because it demonstrates ethnographic writing that I find very comfortable to read through. Many issues discussed in the article were basically based upon a particular interviewee’s point of view. For example, (1) leaders were developed by the library field to “step up to the plate”, and these leaders can define and assert the role of the library in the digital future. However, I think it is a very good point of entry of more discussion on how the field blends itself into a dynamic cycle of a community and what libraries finally become, and whether it is far to the idea of innovators and facilitators instead of just leaders. However, at that time, the situation might lend itself to a need for “leaders” more than collaborative interactions among social actors. (2) Also, an aspect of niche marketing involve in libraries as discussed in this paper, while nowadays it is not only this “niche” we are talking about but the issues from the whole “corporate” aspects. So, I am wondering about the changing trend from niche to mass marketing. Aren’t we trying to do either niche or mass marketing or to do both?

As Bridget points out interestingly about youngsters at that time, I am wondering how they are doing now. Do they see themselves as immigrants to technology or natives to technology? I might be interesting to find out how this particular group reacts to and perceives differently comparing those days and today.

Also, I think there are two ideas that come confronting each other in this cycle related to libraries are (1) the concept of business corporate and competition with bookstores and (2) the concerns on digital information and communication technology. I think the article sounds too much worrisome about how libraries can survive, and it might be because of the article was written in 1997 when future was not so obvious. I am impressed with the fact in our field that “the library” remains not replaceable. I see newer and more attractive terms such as “media centers” and so on, but these cannot represent the whole idea or bring the complete feelings as “library”. I think we have had interesting discussions about the library far more than in a spatial sense, but the nature and interpretation of library as a social institution for social activities. I think users of digital technology weave their ways to make use of library information and facilities electronically while creating values about virtual community and network that are becoming more powerful these days. However, diversity among users bring several different preferences, and so we cannot put away printed materials –not now and in the near future.

So, the point is that I am wondering if the library is a source for producing human and cultural capitals to a community, and if it finally turns itself into one of the capitals that give power and strength to the community.

However, the D'Elia's article is something more formal, and I am trying to understand :)

General reactions to Buildings . .. Bytes

In a lot of ways I find this is the most disturbing article yet. Some of the comments from those interviewed seemed hopeful, however most of the hopeful comments came from directors / visionaries who had thought long (sympathetically) about the issues facing libraries. Similar to Bridget's response, what was most disturbing was the attitude of the younger respondents. What I found most disturbing: “Yet they just as easily sanctioned the notion that trained library professionals could be replaced with community volunteers, such as retirees.” (182) This is similar to the recent budget reductions proposals in Wisconsin which raised the issue of non-renewal of library positions based on the lack of need because of Google. I am all for bringing in retirees to the library but not to replace librarians (which they can’t) rather to supplement. We could use some more caring folks to help out in the library. I spend a lot of time with 3 - 9 year olds and they all love grandparents. I’m sure this is happening already . ..

Some of the suggestions for strengthening the library in the digital age seemed like reasonable/doable approaches for example: “Some of the librarians described the potential for partnerships between local public libraries and university libraries to expand collections and provide cost sharing for expensive digital collections.” (191) I think that cost/resource sharing is critical to strengthening libraries. What other resources could benefit from the interlibrary-loan model?

Another topic that I thought would be interesting to discuss is the idea that: “The digital age merely extends the traditional notion of the library as “the people’s university” (187) This label “the people’s university” is a nice idea but I wonder how prevalent this is? It’s not the first time I’ve heard it . . . but the first I’ve seen it this semester.


Something that I found interesting about Buildings, Books, and Bytes was that it was written in 1997 and I was in the 18-24 age range at that time. I found some of the things that this age group were saying outrageous. I hadn't paid taxes yet at that age and I wonder how many of the other people in that age range really knew ANYTHING about what they were talking about. They weren't income producing taxing paying people yet and I don't know how accurate their poll responses could possibly be.

One thing that I don't understand at all -- how can librarians be freaking out about bookstores taking over while at the same time lamenting the death of the book? I really don't see how you can have it both ways. Is this the crisis culture that Buschman was talking about?

A few discussion questions

I have to say that reading Buildings, Books, and Bytes makes me sober and The Impact of the Internet makes me drowsy. There are some issues that I am aware while reading.

About BBB
1. The Youth issue & Bowling alone
Issues concerning the younger generation is really sounding the warning bell because they are soon to be our main patrons! The young people are the least supportive group - they would rather spend $20 on their own computer than contribute to the libraries. Are they the selfish generation or they just like to "bowling alone"? However, we also read about that they are most willing to pay charges for the library services. How do we reconcile the two points? In addition, the study kindly suggests that when they grow up and have children, they may become more supportive. However, it's also noted that people with computers tend to be less supportive. Obviously more and more people own computers and youth are growing up, what will happen?

2. Public culture and Public Sphere
Another issue that can be related to "Bowling Alone", as well as "Dismantling", is that the author broadens the issue to the notion of public culture. The suggestion of community-based alliances among all public institutions is very attractive. The alliance seems to be able to work to revive the community and public sphere. Are there such alliances? And what's the library's role in the alliances?

3. Library roles and public opinions
I think the greatest contribution of this study is that it provides us with the public's view about the future of the library. They are equivocal toward libraries' future because even librarians are not totally sure about the future or they failed to convey their images and messages to the patrons clearly. This study was conducted almost 10 years ago. And the ten years sees a lot of changes. How are things going now? Is the "navigator" image accepted by the public? What kind of roles are libraries playing in their communities?

4. Concerns about being marginalized & being relevant
Some library leaders feared that libraries would be marginalized and lose political support if they primarily serve the underserved people. However, the study shows that libraries get a lot of support from the disadvantage groups. What do you think of this issue? Do libraries have to gain support from middle-class taxpayer to be relevant? What's more, from the data shown in the article, I don't see that the patrons are really enthusiastic toward the libraries' role in the community. For example, providing meeting rooms for the community groups is almost the least important service for the survey participants. Do libraries have a place at the table?

5. Does anyone have any information about the public policy issues discussed in the article? Maybe we can also discuss about them.

The Impact of the Internet

1. How do you feel about the terms "market", "consumers", "products"…? Under the influence of the "Dismantling", these terms are really annoying to me. In addition, the way that they see public libraries and the Internet completely opposing to each other seems to be oversimplifying this issue. To me, the Internet is a medium, and the library is a public institution, how can they simply be compared with two competing products?

2. I believe that the study has a lot of value because the "competition" between libraries and Internet is a big concern, and it is useful to see the numbers which show that what is happening to our users and nonusers on a national level. However, does the analysis of the numbers tell us anything new? The authors claim that "evolving relationship between the Internet and the library" suggest the need for changes. Well, the librarians have been well aware of this and discussing and making efforts to change for a long time, haven't they?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What Do We Do Now?

Ok, so now I've read these articles and looked at all of these numbers, stats, etc. What am I suppose to do with them? Or, what should a librarian so with them?

How much should we focus on individual community groups/issues and how much should we focus on nation-wide trends?

And what are we going to do about that oh-so-important (well, at least as far as polls and ratings go) group of young men who aren't as excited about the idea of the library? Do we care if they aren't interested?