We just aren’t sexy enough. Digital World, Part 2.

World Summit on the Information Society, Tunis...

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Information professionals are not taken seriously.  In fact, it is doubtful if we are ‘taken’ at all: who ever thinks of us?  Were we a news-breaking element in the World Summit on the Information Society?  Are librarians, archivists, records managers and other information professionals regularly consulted when so-called ‘information policies’ are being created? (I put ‘information policies’ in inverted commas as they usually have to do with either technology or economics, rather than information itself).  Why is all the theory that already exists in the field – in information retrieval, user behaviour, learning, categorisation and so on – steadfastly ignored, only to be laboriously reinvented when required? We are concerned with ‘upliftment’ and ‘preservation of cultural heritage’ and ‘corporate memory’.  We are anxious that people don’t ‘know’ enough, and give them more than they need to know (something I myself have been rather guilty of in this blog, flooding you with my opinion).  We understand the consequences of losing or destroying documents, and so are preoccupied with preservation and conservation. Anybody concerned with technology is a ‘geek’: a male with gross personal habits and no social habits; usually with pimples and a paunch from pizzas, he performs magic at his keyboard which is totally incomprehensible to a non-geek. We are doing things the wrong way.  We are not taken seriously because we take ourselves too seriously. We are out of line with the current cultural environment, in which everything is easy, quick, attractive. With all our talk of ‘the user’, we are making the classic mistakes that Mrs Thompson made with me in Grade 8 Mathematics: (a) she assumed that I understood what quadratic equations were; (b) she thought I cared and (c) she assumed I loved mathematics and would exert myself to overcome the obstacles that stood in my way.  She was wrong on all accounts. We must start with where the user is.  The user spends his/her day in a world of unemployment, recession and mobile technologies.  S/he is stifled in an oppressive regime, in a world of immeasurable opportunity, has access to anything or everything or nothing; suffers inequities of gender, sexuality, religion, race, class or political persuasion.  Even the ‘good’ countries are flawed:  look at income distribution in the US :http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph.  His/her favourite activities are playing computer games, abusing alcohol and drugs, living an alternative lifestyle for the planet, or struggling to survive.  S/he can’t believe what s/he reads (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/feb/23/churnalism-pr-media-trusthttp://blogs.reuters.com/gbu/) or hears (Gulf oil is not a fossil fuel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck01KhuQYmE; New World Order and the US Federal Emergency Management Agency: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xd9NX8dPE1I); US military is spraying chemicals into the air: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_zaCpVj_jc – pick your own conspiracy theory) but often doesn’t know the difference, or doesn’t even care.  They are downloading all the movies and TV shows they want to see using Utorrent or BitTorrent.  Do they care about breaking copyright laws?  Doesn’t look like it. Can we compete when most of our research looks at relatively sophisticated educated people: students, scholars and academics?   How much information information is communicated on any given day in any given organisation that changes the way the organisation works?  How many students request advice from a librarian for an essay?  How many governments consider their political legacies in terms of the documents they leave behind? How can we get a new healthy outlook and a sexy new approach?  We need to reinvent and rejuvenate.  We will also need to increase our numbers, and our specialisations, enormously.  The digital information environment is throwing up challenges that we haven’t even started to consider, as we plan and strategise for a digital future. Do you agree?

How to cope in the digital world. Part 1.

Is this in the future for information professionals?

Now that we are well on our way into 2011, I’ll dare to suggest some of the things that I think we will have to think about in the near future.  I did once acquire a crystal ball, but it didn’t work: I therefore offer no predictions, but rather some thoughts on what seems to be going on at the moment, focussing on the possible effects on the information management professions.  I will mention some of these each day for the next couple of days.  Please do not hesitate to comment, as well as to add issues and phenomena that are important in your field of endeavour.

Multifunctionality and convergence

We have seen, for more than a decade, increased multifunctionality of information and communication technologies (ICTs).  The phone is now a camera, voice recorder, workout monitor, letter writer, internet accesser, aide de memoire and map finder, as well as other things.  This is a continuation of the development of computers, which were soon used for a lot more than just arithmetic and calculation.  The social media and search engines are moving in the same way: FaceBook does email, Bing integrates FaceBook data, FaceBook can also be used to a member of various blogs and webistes of interest.  Google appears to positioning itself to run the Googleverse, as it develops its own versions of popular software – such as email and wordprocessing – as well as interesting additions such as Skype, blogging, Flickr and, of course, the library: Google books.  And then there’s Google Scribe, which anticipates what you are going to write; Google Body, which allows you to peel back, layer by layer, the human body; and Google Goggles, which enables you to search Google using pictures from your smartphone.

I posited previously (2002) that converging technologies have led to increasing convergence between the information professions: will this continue?  I believe that this would be desirable, but whether it is practicable and attainable is, of course, a different matter.  The arguments for increased convergence – or at least collaboration and multidisciplinary interaction – include a stronger public presence and perhaps more political clout (within organisations and communities); sharing of solutions to problems which have perhaps been located within particular disciplines/professions, but which are experience by all; recognition of the similarities, rather than the differences, of the challenges that face the information professionals.  Some of the more complex issues that must be dealt with include the retention of professional profiles, as each discipline/profession has unique characteristics and different contributions to make; the plethora of professional associations, all of which require membership fees and produce newsletters and journals that must be read; and lastly, the overwhelming number of subdivisions that can be identified in this enormous field.  Too much ‘multifunctionality’ can be diffuse – Jack of all trades, master of none.  But such demands are presently made on us: just consider the number of different tasks that must be executed in the role you currently occupy.

Social networking and user-generated content

The appearance and ongoing development of Web 2.0 appears to have no end.  In the analogue world, because of the relatively tedious ways in which documents were created and distributed, more control was possible, perhaps because of necessity.  Documents were not created or published unless it was necessary for whatever reason.  Publishing procedures were closely linked to bibliographic control systems: ISSNs, ISBNs, in book cataloguing information, edition statements and so forth formed part of a vast mechanism.  But even in the 1980s and before, people complained about information overload.  Then the internet appeared, and information professionals groaned: how on earth were we going to manage this flood of documents?  It appeared that every Tina, Dorothy and Helen could publish whatever they liked.  We didn’t even know what was out there, never mind trying to keep up with classification and cataloguing.  And then Web 2.0 happened, with amazing social possibilities.  The hallmark of this version of the internet is user creation and interaction.  Barthes mentioned the ‘death of the author’, in the sense that each reader will recreate an author’s text, an idea explored also, in some detail, by Umberto Eco in his ‘The open work’.  The death of the Author, with a capital A, has another interpretation now: the Author does not have to condoned, approved, validated, lionised or even recognisable to be able to publish as much as s/he wants to.

Part of the problem for the reader is being able to contextualise the author, in order to draw meaning and fully understand the ideas that are being conveyed.  The Author is no longer automatically an ‘authority’ (“I read it in a book so it must be true”): far more sophisticated skills are required in order to select, understand, analyse and critique the information with which we are now overwhelmed.  This is sometimes called ‘critical information literacy’ which is quite different from the ‘information literacy’ that librarians used to know and love.  In fact, it might almost be called ‘critical media literacy’ or, the term I currently prefer, ‘Critical Digital Literacies’.  All the technology in China – and the rest of the world – will not help us one jot if the general population does not develop these skills.  I believe that we, as guardians of memory and cultural heritage, are the very people to undertake this.

Increasing epublishing and ereading means, at the very least, familiarisation with the tools that are required is necessary.  Does this mean the end of publishers?  How does it change the publishing cycle?  There have already been huge shifts in educational resources and scholarly communication patterns (more on this at another time); Open Access and Open Source are widely used and increasingly popular.  This will have, perhaps, the greatest impact on poor countries – but what will the nature and consequences of this be?

Consider the rise of civilian journalism.  I grew up in an environment in which it was natural to doubt every word on the radio or in the newspapers on current events; we needed to understand that we were being fed half news or even no news at all.  Sadly, in environments were ‘free speech’ is protected by law, too many accept that what news is being reported, and what comments are made on it, is both important and authentic.  The ways in which journalism (‘churnalism’ is a new aspect of this – see www.churnalism.com) and the media operate is accepted as part of the transparent background.  Civilian journalism empowers ordinary people to report directly on what is happening: this, enhanced by Twitter and Facebook, provide different interpretations and views.  It can be said, therefore, that in this regard, the internet is like Foucault’s Bibliotheque Fantastique: a place where we go to discover ideas and to have them challenged.  The new heroes are, if you like, at the bottom of the pyramid, in terms of sheer number, at least.

The other aspect of this is that printed newspapers are likely to shift to online only.  An advantage of this for individuals is that they can use push technologies – news aggregators such as RSS feeds – to deliver only the bits they want to know about.  And then there was Twitter – and now, for those with iPad tablets, FlipBoard, which allows you, effectively, to create your own magazine.

As information professionals, what are we going to do about this?  How will we manage and encourage access to all these ideas?   A Sisyphean task, seemingly.  How can our knowledge and skills be used?  How can we access and use user commentaries and annotations?  At the same time, we must ask, “Who is NOT using the internet?  Who is NOT publishing their ideas?”  This group may include anyone from serious scholars to the illiterate and disadvantaged: whose voices need to be heard?  Should we have any involvement with this – knowledge creation and distribution?

The rise of secret gardens, or, the Splinterweb.  Social networking is all well and good, but perhaps the hysteria is now over: do we all want everybody to know our every move, our ever mundane and trivial thought?  And let’s not mention the time it takes to pursue this triviality.  It seems that people are becoming more selective, perhaps more discreet and attempting to use their internet space and time more meaningfully.  This would suggest not only targeted audiences, but a judicious and discriminating approach to who can see what.  There is little doubt that, with the emphasis on intellectual property (note for example the astronomical number of patents that are being applied for and approved), most knowledge creators/publishers wish to protect and preserve theirs.  So, while a considerable portion of the internet will remain public and open, increasingly we are likely to see inaccessible areas.  Costs may be involved, too.

I would be very interested to hear what issues you believe confront us at this juncture.

All the best


Comme des francais – orphans, cousins and nieces

FYI France: digital tortoise or digital hare?

Regarding the “orphans” — the legally and financially dispossessed, of the 20th c. and future digital worlds — the books / texts no one claims, or their cousins no one wants either, hidden in the vast library treasuries now being digitized by so many…

The French today, le 10 February 2011, announced their approach to these problems, see below — it is a brave declaration, well worth reading, as much for its “vive la différence” aspects as for what it both says and does not say.

Some comment:

* Approaches: “top=>down” very much versus “bottom=>up”

The above fairly characterizes a fundamental difference in approach, between the US and the Rest of the World Including France, in these and many other matters. And it is a difference best remembered on both sides, although often glossed-over, forgotten, or even never-known.  The French here are looking to their highest levels — their august national library, their publishers’ association, their national and supra-national governments — for leadership, in digitization. This is regulation-before-invention, rationality-before-impulse — “all is forbidden which is not permitted”, perhaps, as the oldest saying about all this goes…

The US approach could not be more different: “over here”, instead, two young Stanford graduate students, gangs of free-wheeling “venture capitalists” operating far outside the bounds of State-regulated “banking” — a virtual and real and very expensive maelstrom of inventive activity, conducted by a horde of mere kids (think of young Hewlett & Packard, Jobs & Wozniack, Brin & Page, Doerr fresh from college, Gates before he’d even finished, Zuckerburg ditto) all of them far too young at the time to have come up against any real “State regulation”, yet, more serious than a pot bust or a parking ticket, anyway, then many hectic deadlines and midnight sessions and much “labor rights” insecurity, “only the paranoid survive”, and tremendous excitement… There is no “business as usual”, in US hitech innovation: little of the “regulation” or “rationality” which the French so value, and absolutely _no_ “métro, boulot, dodo”.

China is different in all this, from the US, Japan is different, India is different although more like the US than some of the others are, perhaps. So thinking of France, a nation so like the US and yet so different, may help us to appreciate how _un_-like the US all the others really are, too — may enable us to take such differences less for-granted than we often do, in the hitech marvels currently pouring forth from the US and out upon the rest of the world, now.

* Marketing

If there is one characteristic of the US approach really not understood or even permitted, in most “foreign” places, it is “le marketing”. In US usage, the term describing and encouraging the private “corporations”, such as Google and Apple, which lead in these digitization efforts, is “marketing-led”: in a US firm, per the US “business” schools, marketing must be everything — if you can’t “sell” it you shouldn’t “do” it — it’s a way of characterizing the customer’s input, or the manipulation of same, in design and operations and all aspects of the firm, an outgrowth of the “customer is king” mantra of the older Horatio Alger commercial generation in the US.

But nothing could be more “foreign” to the French approach, here or generally. Digitization of their precious texts is motivated not by “marketing” but by various forms of altruism — history, philosophy, notions of the value of “reading” and the necessity of “education” — mention “marketing” and the folks in France involved in these matters literally will not know what you mean, as to them that is merely an instrumental, operational idea, more like “typing”, or “filing”, the idea that “marketing” could be central or a motivation or an end-in-itself, to the French is very foreign and the very strangest…

* Money

Unless it’s “monetize”… The French are no strangers to either term — Paris houses one of Europe’s best and biggest international business schools. But in France, as in most non-US places, it’s not “marketing” or “money” which drive book digitization efforts, for example, but “patrimoine culturel”.  Whereas in the US, “it’s the money”… The younger Venture Capitalist Generation’s mantra, this time, chanted repeatedly into the ear of the even-younger Graduate Student Corporate Founder, “Monetize! Monetize! Monetize!”…  To foreigners this preoccupation is a mystery, while in the US it is the essence: “The business of America is business”, as one US national president put it succinctly.

* Floods and Famines

Now then comes the problem, though: there must, it seems, be room for more than one approach.  Because things have Globalized, now: like it or not, for both us and the French, and the other Europeans, and the folks in India, and the teenager in Urumchi in China, doing research for her term paper & texting her friends & shopping at Victoria’s Secret, all via her cellphone… Also because there is a new flood of all this on its way, now…

The “information overload”, predicted from the “computers” of the 1980s and 1990s, was just “Flood 1.0” — an initial inundation, one coped-with, moderately well, by then-new tools such as “personal computers”, and by hypertext and information search & retrieval and The WorldWideWeb, and by Jerry’s List, then Yahoo, Google’s infamous algorithm, and decades of hitech development.  Now, though, from outside of the “computer” world and to a great extent unanticipated by it — “from Left Field”, to use the US baseball-analogy — comes the newly-Globally-omnipresent “mobile” telephony, and its possibilities for communicating via Internet.  The “power of many” just got graphic demonstration in the images from Cairo, repeating Teheran, and the Obama and Dean campaigns, and Manila’s “People Power”, and so many other recent instances.  The use of “mobiles”, in finding and retrieving and using and creating raw “data” — and then, hopefully, useful “information” too — is the information overload “Flood 2.0” just-now breaking.

However many “computer” users there are now or ever will be, Globally, there are far more “mobile” users now — and the two digital worlds, “computer” and “mobile”, now are merging, into user networks capable of producing virtual firestorms of data, and many unpredictable consequences.  As all of us who followed Cairo events on Twitter et al. over the last few weeks can attest…

Typical GoogleSearch retrievals of i.e. “3,439,000 results” are about to jump a thousand-fold, then — already we don’t really understand at all why “#1” floated to the top, of our particular retrievals-heap — Google says their algorithm knows, but that she’s just not telling — imminently, though, soon retrieving 1 out of “3,439,000,000+” instead, we’ll _never_ be able to find or evaluate or use anything, if we don’t start thinking outside of our old “computer”-era boxes pretty soon.

* Of Tortoises and Hares

Which brings us back to the French, here, and to their “different” approach — one which, I am suggesting, stands for similarly-“different” approaches to be found elsewhere, all over the newly-Globalizing world in fact…  Plenty of sterile debate takes place, in hitech, about who was “first” and who is “fastest”: sterile because most of it is circular — where knowledge is additive, identifying origins is an arbitrary matter of deciding where to draw the line — whether at a certain coffee shop in Silicon Valley, or at John von Neumann or Lady Lovelace, or at the invention of the “zero”.  But the French have held their own, in this history: for instance their Minitel offered “online graphics”, and “commercial applications”, and “general public access”, all long before the US Internet did — back when all these activities still were illegal on the Internet, in fact. Early French contributions did not end, or even begin, at Descartes…  And one of the first among non-anglophone nations to try at least to adopt the early and still-anglophone ASCII-only Internet was France: this despite the many battles — over “accents aigüs” and “OSI protocol wars” and “droit de copie” and the fascinating “droit moral”, through which M. Victor Hugo still “owns” a slice of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” to the eternal mystification of Americans, and now over “Google the phenomenon” — the battles have been part of the process, educational for all sides.

So now, increasingly, comes governance: _who_ will “call the shots” and _how_, as the digital scales up to Globalized applications — to a Globe where governance generally is done mostly in a very non-US way, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Egypt as we recently have discovered, and really everywhere else, in places far more “different” from the US than France and the French ever have been?  The French have been “first”, in this, in many senses, and they very often have been very “fast” — they have been “en avance” of the US even in some hitech arenas, for example, in spite of there having been a “retard français” in others — always, however, they have offered usually-friendly although not-always-noticed clues, to us their US friends.  So in this “governance” instance, perhaps the French can help again. Their “top=>down” approach, and other aspects of the way they intend to do their book digitization — for “orphans” and “out-of-print” and other things — may be very different, from the way these ideas are thought of in Mountain View, or Manhattan, or Washington DC.  But they are more representative of the rest of the non-US world — and that is where the US wants to sell its own products and services, now, in a Globalized economy — marketing’s Golden Rule, “know thy customer…”  Worth-a-journey, then — the French, on caring for digitization’s “orphans”, below — definitely worth-a-study, at least.


[Original version in English — translation _not_ by JK — see

also the original version in French, below]

Paris, 1 February 2011 –

“Signature of the framework agreement for the digitization and

online exploitation of out of print French books of the 20th


Frédéric Mitterrand, Ministry for Culture and Communication, René Ricol, Commissioner-General of investment attached to the Prime Minister, Bruno Racine, President of the National Library of France, Antoine Gallimard, President of the French Publishers Association (Syndicat national de l’Edition, SNE) Jean-Claude Bologne, President of the French Society of Literary Authors (Société des Gens de Lettres, SGDL) have signed a framework agreement reflecting the will to give new life, through digitization, to copyrighted out of print books of the 20th century. The aim is to digitize and make available for sale online, a corpus of 500 000 books within five years.

This agreement, fruit of the past year’s reflection and cooperation, enables the project to be taken one step further with the launching of a detailed feasibility study within the coming months. It stresses in particular the fact that digitized books through « Investments for the future » will be exploited by means of a common management guaranteeing publishers and authors, equally, a fair remuneration in line with intellectual property rights. As a result, copyrights law will be modified.

Digitization will rely on the legal deposit collections stored at the National Library of France. The latter will be entitled to possess a digital copy for its own use. The website Gallica  (http://gallica.bnf.fr/) will display the complete enriched bibliographical records, provide a possibility to access excerpts and redirect users towards online retailers in order to buy a digital copy.

The state financial support will be provided within the framework of the program « Development of the digital economy ». This euros 4.5bn scheme is one of the main components of the euros 35bn mobilized by the government for the « Investments for the future ». This includes euros 750m earmarked for the development of new ways of promoting and digitizing cultural, educational or scientific content.

[And the following is the original version in French — with a few ISO 8859-1 character set symbols added-in here, only, by JK.]

* Paris, le 1er février 2011

“Signature de l’accord cadre relatif à la numérisation et l’exploitation des livres indisponibles du XXème siècle” Frédéric Mitterrand, ministre de la Culture et de la Communication, René Ricol, commissaire général à l’investissement, Bruno Racine, président de la bibliothèque nationale de France, Antoine Gallimard, président du Syndicat national de l’Edition et Jean-Claude Bologne, président de la Société des gens de lettres, ont signé un accord-cadre traduisant la volonté de redonner une nouvelle vie, sous forme numérique, aux livres sous droits du XXème siècle n’étant actuellement plus commercialisés en librairie. Un corpus de 500 000 livres pourra ainsi être numérisé et proposé à la vente à l’horizon de 5 ans.

Fruit d’une année de réflexions et de concertations, cet accord-cadre permet d’aborder une nouvelle phase dans la mise en oeuvre de ce projet avec la réalisation d’une étude de

faisabilité détaillée dans les prochains mois. Il rappelle notamment que les livres numérisés au moyen des Investissements d’avenir seront exploités dans le cadre d’une gestion collective assurant aux éditeurs et aux auteurs, représentés à parité, une rémunération équitable dans le strict respect des droits moraux et patrimoniaux. Le code de la propriété intellectuelle sera modifié en conséquence.

La numérisation des livres sera effectuée à partir des collections du dépôt légal conservées à la Bibliothèque nationale de France. Celle-ci pourra conserver une copie numérique pour son usage propre. Le site Gallica (http://gallica.bnf.fr/) présentera l’intégralité des références bibliographiques enrichies, avec une possibilité de feuilletage, et renverra à des sites marchands pour l’acquisition des livres numériques. Le soutien financier de l’Etat s’inscrira dans le cadre du programme « développement de l’économie numérique ».

Ce programme doté de 4,5 milliards d’euros est l’une des principales composantes des 35 milliards d’euros que le gouvernement mobilise pour les « investissements d’avenir ». Il inclut un volet de 750 millions d’euros visant à développer de nouvelles formes de valorisation et de numérisations des contenus culturels, scientifiques et éducatifs.

[* Both versions are from the “Press Release” distributed via email on February 10, 2011, by the BnF.]


Tortoises are said to have better track records than hares, long-term — and, besides, it is not always entirely clear who is the “hare” and who the “tortoise”, until the end of the race.

Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com


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