måndag 24 november 2014

The end

Not only is this the last entry of this blog, but it's the last blog entry that I'll ever do.
Thank you.

tisdag 11 november 2014

Att bilda en bibliotekarie - new book in stores now.

Today, my new Swedish book Att bilda en bibliotekarie hits the shelves of your favorite virtual book store.

Att bilda en bibliotekarie, published on BTJ Förlag, is a collection of popular essays on cultural heritage digitization, information literacy, theory development in Library and Information Science, and the history of librarianship education.

You can buy it here

fredag 26 september 2014

Creating librarians - erudite professionals or employable LIS students? Social expectations on future librarians and LIS curricula. Talk given at Göteborg Book Fair, 25 september 2014.

This weekend marks the annual Göteborg Book Fair, Bok och Bibliotek 2014. As part of the Linnaeus University programme, I gave a talk on library education in a historical and social perspective. The book fair itself was as crowded and horrendous as ever, but I was happy to see my own little session turning out to be very nice and surprisingly intimate, with a small number of politely engaged attendants. The talk was also promoting my upcoming Swedish book Att bilda en bibliotekarie, which will be out within a week or so on BTJ Förlag. The following is a short summary of the talk:

Librarianship builds on a long tradition of very stable practices. It has looked fundamentally the same for at least five thousand years. Very little has changed. This simple fact is something that many librarians and library managers and funders today seem to feel a bit uncomfortable with, since the norm in contemporary librarianship, as well as in society at large, is to be as adaptive and innovative as possible. Of course we see this in relation to new information and communication technologies. A technological imperative has replaced a moral one, which could thrive in times of less technological pressure on libraries. This change of imperative has also changed the ways we see library education. The idea of specific education for librarians is in itself not very old – it isn’t until the middle of the 19th century that we find what could be described as ”modern” library education curricula, first in central Europe, and somewhat later in the USA. In the very long time that preceded these, librarianship was thought of as a highly intellectual practice and there are many examples of erudite librarians working in close proximity to various cultural, religious and political power centres. For centuries the head librarian at the Biblioteca Apostolica in the Vatican State worked very closely with the Holy See, and in the 17th century France we find librarians within the inner circles of La Républic des Savants.
The closeness to power was not entirely broken unil the late 19th century when we see the emergence of educational programmes for public libraries, a completely new kind of library that on a local level needed another kind of librarians that those of earlier times. Melvil Dewey set the template for how these new curriculi shold be, focussing on a combination of literature and library administration and techniques.
When the first proper Swedish library education took off in 1926, it was fully inspired by Dewey’s American example (as were most of the ideas behind the public libraries). It attracted primarily well educated women, who completed various humanistic courses with a library education that in four month gave as many lectures as we today do in one and a half years in our LIS programmes.
In a sense these librarians might be considered as erudites, altough in another, more pragmatic sense than that of the 17th century librarians. For most parts of the 20th century librarians were seen as ”learned” professionals, something which gave them a specific status in their local communities or in their universities. It isn’t until we see the paradigmatic shift of information technology that this ideal for library professionals and the educational programmes that provided them starts to erode. Suddenly other qualities than humanistic learning and erudite morals takes over – the perceived needs of the ”user” replaces the authority of the highly qualified librarian. From an educational point of view, the final turning point is the implementation of the Bologna process which not only makes european Higher Education Institutions more homogenous, but also focus more on employability than morals and learning. Millennia of professional practice development was thrown overboard in the name of technology and economic growth ideology. It goes without saying that librarianship is a profession which is very badly suited to fit this ideology since the very core of professional integrity appeals to other ideals, now politically obsolete.  The new librarians graduating from our LIS programmes, however, are of course children of this age. Does this mean then that we should shut down our libraries or change our LIS curricula even more? Well, this is a actually hard to say, for as time rushes on, we are getting more and more aware of the fact that the economic growth ideology, which is the foundation of the Bologna process, is not very durable and that we need to find another path for social construction. In the same way that the old national states finally seems to crumble (it was bound to happen), the technological and economic imperative of higher education – and librarianship – will crumble as well and make way for something new. This ”new” might very well be a view on humanity as clever enough to build on experience and a trust in knowledge as a base for building sound institutions for the benefit of a more equal society, both economically and culturally. When that time comes, libraries will still be there and we who educate professional librarians will have a very strong tradition to fall back on. We will know what to do. The erudite librarian is also a humanistic librarian and when today’s society suffers its inevitable nervous breakdown, it might very well be that we will turn to classic humanities to get us back on track. The way to get there will, after this era of social media and pedagogical experimentation, be through traditional libraries and library services – provided by true, erudite professionals. That is, if they still exist. If it is not too late.

torsdag 10 juli 2014

Dewey recital at alternative Swedish music festival

Truls, a friend of mine who lives a couple of houses away here in Uråsa is, among many other things, a music creator. He creates sounds, noise, music. A while back I was asked to take part in his current electronica duo project DAt Harp for a one-off occasion. They needed a recital of some sort and the piece should be performed at the Swedish alternative music festival Säljerydsfestivalen in the beginning of july. As this annual festival is fuelled by visions of anarchistic freedom, I chose to read from the works of the perhaps least anarchistic person that I know of: Melvil Dewey. I recited Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC), sections 612.17-612.19, Hart (Dewey spelling) and 521.1-521.4, Theoretic Astronomy. Through these categories body, love and celestial harmony were strangely united, all integrated into DAt Harp’s music.

I used my personal copy of the legendary 8th edition of the system, published in 1913. This particular copy was first owned by Swedish public library pioneer Greta Linder. It contains several marginal notes made by her on the pros and cons of the system – almost a century before it was implemented in Swedish libraries.

The performance was, as is customary in these days of social media horror, recorded.
So, here it is – enjoy:

Thanks to Truls and Mattias for having me on the set - I enjoyed it immensly.

fredag 9 maj 2014

Sexual diversity and the heteronormative library - lecture given at Växjö Pride 7 may 2014

This week, rainbow flags colour the city centre of Växjö. Växjö Pride presents an array of lectures, films, debates, concerts and lastly, a parade through town. I was happy to be invited to give a talk as part of the Linnaeus University Pride programme. I chose to speak about ”sexual diversity and the heteronormative library”. A point of departure was taken in the social norm reproduction of public libraries, and how this affects groups and individuals who are not heterosexual. The following is a summary of the lecture.

Public libraries are political institutions, but not just that; they are also moral and normative institutions, set to support the social order of which they are part. It is only during the last couple of decades that the traditional moral and normative aspects of libraries and librarianship has been questionned by a more user orientated approach, pushing back traditional preferences seen in acquisition and reference service in libraries throughout the westen world. At the same time, the idea of public libraries ”serving all” in society has changed. That an institution as the public library reproduces certain values is in itself nothing strange – this is somenthing all public institutions do. What is interesting to see is how those people, ideas, values and movements that do not fit into the reproduced norms and values are treated.
Traditionally, public libraries have defined themselves as extraordinary inclusive, stating ”all citizens” as their users. Norms and values of the majority has thus been taken for granted and alternative views and habits have been, basically, made invisible. That which is the norm is everything, and deviations do simply not exist (officially). If an alternative wants or needs to become visible in this enironment, it has to present itself as just that - an alternative.
Today the situation is slightly different. Libraries refer to ”all citizens” as their users to a much lesser degree than just a few decades ago. Instead, citizens are divided into defined usergroups, that may or may not be subject of certain attention and/or activites. Teenagers, book lovers, small children, parents, immigrants, various minority groups, elderly, homeless people and non-heterosexuals are just some of the groups frequently discussed within contemporary librarianship. Not all of these groups necessarily break with majority norms or values – but non-heterosexuals do. We may call this trend of prioritizing specific groups ”inclusion through distinction” or ”inclusion through separation”.  Instead of making a normative deviation or alternative invisible, it is instead the norm itself that hides behind these distinctions. The heterosexual majority is not considered a ”group”, but instead an invisible norm. Both of these approaches have their pitfalls, and the question is of course which is most beneficial to the minorities and alternatives.
When Library and Information Science scholars study sexual diversity and LGBTQ issues it is mostly within three different areas: knowledge organization (documents and their classification/indexing); the reference situation (focusing on librarian/user interaction and acquisition) and; information needs of non-heterosexual groups and individuals (user studies). In all, however, not much research is done, even on an international level, and and it is not until the late 1990’s that LGBTQ issues become visible in LIS research at all (but for some singular earlier exceptions).
Although public libraries have proven to be very important for non-heterosexual individuals for their coming out process, for their own identity shaping and as places where information and gay/lesbian (non-heterosexual) fiction can be found and ordered without pressure, there are a number of things that are still being pointed out by research as problematic. Classification and indexing systems are generally exclusively heterosexual bias in tebles and term choices, even if progress now is being made; when encountering librarians, the best service is provided to those who are most like the librarians themselves (in looks as well as in morals); information behaviour varies significantly within the LGBT community - one thing we do know however, is that transgender people have significantly more difficulties to find their use of libraries comfortable in the way that cis-people* have. Instead they turn to the Internet in a more exclusive manner than other LGBTQ groups.
How then are libraries approaching issues concerning non-heterosexual individuals and the LGBTQ community? As research and social development have made librarians increasingly aware of the specific needs of gays, lesbians and transgender people, we have slowly begun to see more and more attempts to attract these groups into ordinary library activities. In some cases, the creation of a ”rainbow shelf” is considered enough. This is of course not unproblematic in that such a shelf (or corner, or place) on the one hand creates visibility for these groups, but on the other separates them on a quite visible and physical level within the library room. Is that really what the LGBTQ community needs? What most people want, regardless of sexual, politcal or moral orientation, is to be included in their local community without predjudice and without distinction – to be like ”everybody else”.
Lately, a couple of libraries in the Stockholm area has taken the question one step further and applied for a LGBT certificate. Such certificate is provided by RFSL -The Swedish Federation forLesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, and includes education and critical analysis of the activities of the organization in the light of LGBT needs and values. Even though there is always a risk that such certification can be used to gain cheap political points, it is, if taken seriously, an alternative that goes way beyond just putting up a ”rainbow shelf”. It remains to be seen how this work will turn out in Swedish libraries.  Perhaps it is indeed a way to include non-heterosexual individuals in the general norm of society on the same terms as anybody else – if so, that would be a significant step towards a new norm reproduction, not only for libraries, but for society as a whole.

*cis-pepole = those who identify with their birthgiven sex – the term is used to distinguish transpeople from those who are not.

tisdag 18 mars 2014

On the documentality of future libraries

It is quite popular to predict the future of libraries, not least among librarians. Often we notice a kind of strange contradiction in these predictions, of simultaneously being obsolete and at the centre of a brave new digital world. In some cases this turns into a kind of institutional schizophrenia, which is at best amusing and at worst destructive. Most likely libraries will not be obsolete in the decades to come. Most likely some libraries will change quite a lot in the decades to come. This is of course a truism, but to understand the logic of future libraries, we must look at the basic legitimacy of libraries as social and intellectual institutions. This can be defined in many ways. One way of describing libraries – and librarianship – is in terms of documentality. Documentality is in itself not an unproblematic concept, but it is basically about what documents do and how they make us act. We may speak of documentary practices or of ontological documentality, where documents are what de facto constitute institutions. In this respect libraries are interesting, because they can be said to be built upon a double documentality; 1. Documents that legally and administratively constitute a library, and 2. Documents that constitute the library in terms of its holdings. Without these two kinds of documentalities combined, there would be no libraries, and there would be no legitimacy to uphold them as social institutions. The same goes for librarianship. As a profession it is defined by a set of documents; degrees from LIS educational programmes, codes of ethical conduct, institutional or personal accreditations, memberships in professional associations – all which are legitimized through the very existence of a specific documentality. Traditionally librarianship has also been defined by a specific (often custodian) relation to the holdings of a specific library, or a specific type of library.
 But, is it possible to speak of librarianship as a single profession? Yes, I do believe it is. Conditions vary though, between different library settings and types of documentary institutions, and so does the self-image fostered within them. It is interesting to see that the anxiety over professional identity and the future of libraries are very much tied to public libraries. In for instance academic libraries we don’t see these kinds of discussions. I believe that one of the reasons or this is to be found in the documentality of libraries and librarianship.
 Public libraries are a relatively new phenomena related closely to western democratic ideals, stemming from the 18th century Enlightenment movement. The legitimacy of public libraries are tied to a specific form of documentary practice that we find in 20th centrury democracies. The documentality of this form of democracy, that is the basic structure of its institutions, includes public libraries as providers of documents reflecting views and cultural expressions of these societies.
Academic libraries, on the other hand, relies on a much longer history and are related to a specific documentary practice, namely that of scientific communication. Scientific communication has gone through several changes during the last three hundred years, all related to technological innovation, infrastructure, methodological changes in research, and social demands on sharing of results. The ontological documentality of academic libraries are thus much stronger than that of public libraries. The structure of scientific communication is in thorough and rapid change, but still there are several components that safeguard a kind of documentality that secure the role of librarians and libraries. Academic libraries are not threatened by the future. Instead it may even predict it – even if predictions tend to stretch from a total collaps of the system to a maintained status quo, due to the conservative systems of scientific quality control and structures connected to social and academic status and benefits.
If we look at it from a documentality point of view this leads us into an interesting situation. Public libraries may suffer from decreasing public support, and thus being forced into developing into something that differ from the ”original” intent of librarianship. On the other hand, we don’t see the ”end of books”, we don’t see user behaviour that differ much from what we might describe as traditional. So the ontological definitions of libraries based on stocks and holdings and activities tied to these seem, at least for the coming decades, to be secured. The threat instead comes from the socially constitutional documentality where local governments and society as a whole will fail to recognise the significance of libraries in future political development.
Academic libraries, on the other hand, face a situation where they, through an increased significance to university management and evaluation practices (for examples through bibliometrical resposibilities) find their ontological documentality intact, but an increasingly lack of holdings. Already today many university libraries spend less than five percents of their media budgets on physical materials. The rest is directed towards licences and subscription fees for journals and publishing services that are placed outside the libraries. Contemporary academic libraries have never offered so much and had control over so few documents as today. The documentality of academic libraries are in a process of being de-institutionalised.
These things are of course not new. What we might anticipate, however, is a reinstatement of documentality as a basis of legitimacy for libraries in the future, when documents come into a more general sphere of interest in society. The retrieval of documents is not the same thing as the retrieval of information, and I believe we already see a shift toward a more document conscious environment, in libraries as well as in society. Information is not free flowing, it is not like air. It is always bound in documents. In a society overflowing with documents, the need for, and recognition of, insitutions that may use this to further scientific knowledge, cultural expressions, ethical diversity and democracy will increase, and libraries will have that ability. They will have it through a documentality that is both ontological and tied to practice. What form these documentary practices may take, however, is difficult to predict. Two decades ago, who would have thought we would be where we are today, with a web full of dynamic documents and thriving libraries - side by side?

måndag 10 mars 2014

iConference in Berlin or "Starving with Dinosaurs"

I am back in office after a week in Berlin, attending the iConference, the now annual meeting of the iCaucus, an international ”association” of Information Schools and Library and Information Science Departments. The iCaucus started off about fifteen years ago as an informal netwok between a number of US LIS schools in an attempt to find ways in which to address contemporary information problems and development. During the last few years the concept has spread internationally as well, and there are today 55 iSchools in the US, Europe and Asia. In Scandinavia, there are three member departments; at University of Borås, University of Oslo and Akershus, and University of Copenhagen.
My own department at Linnaeus University is not a member, but this does not stop us from having a lot in common with these schools in terms of interests and collaborations. The reason I attended the conference this year was much out of curiosity, as it was the first time it was held in Europe. I remember that the iSchool concept, when it first appeared, was hailed as something completely new and now I wanted to see for myself what it had to offer as an alternative to, for instance, the CoLIS or ASIS&T conferences. Not much, it turned out. A slight emphasis on ”the digital”, yes. A slight leaning towards the computational, yes. As a whole, though it proved to be a rather ordinary LIS conference, with pretty much the same people circulating the coffee tables as on CoLIS or ASIS&T, and by all means, that is not a bad thing.
None the less, the quality of papers and presentations varied significantly. At the welcome session, Michael Seadle of the hosting Humbolt University, mentioned that more and more papers are being rejected in the peer review process of the iConference. Normally that is a good thing, but as the days went along, I started to think about those papers that didn´t make it. Were they rejected purely on the basis of poor quality? If so,  there is quite a lot of really bad research out there right now. That might be, but here I do not think that is the case. I don´t think I have ever been to a conference that has suffered so much from the obvious need of, primarily American, demands of publication by numbers. There where several papers that held a quality no higher than that which I expect from my students at our LIS bachelor program at LNU. Typically, and sadly, most of these proved to be American doctoral thesis projects.  Presumably, these papers presented little snippets of more substantial studies, because a number of them were, to be honest, pure rubbish – limited exploratory, statistical or experimental designs with little or no ambition beyond the obvious outcome of the measures used. It really makes you wonder about the general state of US LIS research today. Needless to say, the doctoral students themselves are not the ones to blame. Instead one must consider the judgement of supervisors and departments. As it is likely that several of the papers, notes and posters that where rejected were both strong and relevant, the organizers really need to think over the review process for upcoming iConferences. A conference is never better than the reserach presented and in this respect iConference has quite a long way to go if they want to be in the same league as for instance CoLIS and ASIS&T, and I see no other ambition in the programme. 

Of course there were highlights. The two keynote talks, given in the wonderful Audiomax at Hegelplatz, where Albert Einstein once gave his famous public lectures on the theory of general relativity, were very interesting. Tony Hey of Microsoft Research Connections gave an interesting account of the development of Big Science and Open Data as the new challenge for companies and institutions of the magnitude of Microsoft and its likes. Melissa Terras of University College London held an intriguing talk on the possibilities of, and challenges for, digital humanities. Among the session talks I heard, Ronald Day of University of Indiana, Bloomington, stood out as the unique voice in LIS that he has been over the last fifteen years. He presented his forthcoming book Indexing it all: the subject in the age of documentation, information and data. I look forward to reading it. For my own part, I chaired a nice session on ”Culture studies and digital challenges”, discussing political bias in Wikipedia, the character of Edward Snowden, and Florida school libraries.

Well, so much for the session parts of the conference. The social events are as important and of course the iConference in Berlin was held in the most revered of academic environments, the Humbolt University, right by Unter den Linden in the city centre. The Conference ”dinner” was held in the beautiful Naturkundemuseum, in the world famous Dinosaur Hall, housing the largest dinosaur skeleton in the world. So far so good. Socially it was an excellent evening with many friends and colleagues on the conference curcuit present. It wasn’t much of a dinner though – the little pieces of nourishment offered by servants rushing through the crowds hardly qualified as snacks. Soon enough the joke was obvious, paraphrasing the old Kevin Costner flick Dancing with wolves: we were ”starving with dinosaurs”. Some suggested it to be a post-modernist conception of ”dinner”, giving precedence to the discourse of ”eating”, in the sense of discussing ”food” over that of actually eating it. Indeed, I think this was the first conference I have attended which did not offer one single meal sitting down. Well, well. One thing struck me as progressive enough. Vegetarian food was not treated as ”special”. Instead, half of the little lunchboxes handed out after the morning sessions were vegetarian options and the rest of them contained remnants of dead animals - nice gesture duly noted.


Was the iConference worth attending? Yes indeed. I see no reason not to consider it when planning my annual conference attendances. Perhaps I’ll even sign up for next year’s event – in sunny southern California.

1. The Audiomax auditorium during Melissa Terras' talk.
2. The conference "dinner" at Naturkundemuseum.
3. Dinosaurs. Two real and two in the making: Fredrik Åström and Joacim Hansson.
4. Hegel. No less.