måndag 16 december 2013

The materiality of knowledge organization: epistemology, metaphors and society. New article.

As the year comes to a close a new article of mine has been published. It was submitted in april for a theme issue of journal Knowledge Organization, published by the International Society for Knowledge Organization. It is the prime forum for classification research within LIS. My contribution can thus be seen as a kind of return to the research themes that occupied me in the late 1990's, culminating in my doctoral dissertation Bibliotek, klassifikation, samhälle from 1999.

It was nice to be asked to participate in this issue, and it is humbling to be published along with such good colleagues. The always interesting editing process proved more than rigorous this time. Knowledge Organization is a journal with very strict formal requirements, and a lot of work had to be put down into making the article fit those requirements. In the process, I felt that some of the arguments were a bit lost. Now seeing the article in its final form, however, I find it at least fitting the formal structure of the other articles, giving the issue a nice conform look. Classification research is in itself a thoroughly conformist branch of LIS, and Knowledge Organization is a good manifestation of this. Still, I can easily defend the final product, and it is with a strange kind of pleasure that I now send it off to a life of its own.

Interestingly enough, this detour into classification research might prove to be timely sign of what is soon to come in terms of new research for me. This, however, I will return to here during next year, when the time is right.


Hansson, Joacim (2013) The Materiality of Knowledge Organization: Epistemology, Metaphors and Society. Knowledge Organization. 40(6), 384-391. 29 references.

This article discusses the relation between epistemology, social organization and knowledge organization. Three examples are used to show how this relation has proven to be historically stable: 1) the organization of knowledge in 18th century encyclopedias; 2) the problem of bias in the international introduction of DDC in early 20th century libraries in Scandinavia; and 3) the practice of social tagging and folksonomies in contemporary late capitalist society. By using the concept of ‘materiality’ and the theoretical contribution on the documentality of social objects by Maurizio Ferraris, an understanding of the character of the connection between epistemology and social order in knowledge organization systems is achieved. 
The full content of the issue is found here

fredag 15 november 2013

Day of the imprisoned writer

Today is the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. Manifestations are held all over the world, even in Växjö, where I live and work. Day of the Imprisoned Writer was started by International PEN in 1981, and has been kept recognized ever since. It puts focus on writers – authors, journalists - standing up against repression and attacks on the free word. The manifestation in Växjö took place at the ”speaker’s corner” in Storgatan. Present were local politicians, representatives from the local daily newspaper, the city public library, Amnesty and various literary associations. I was invited to speak as a representative of my university, and it felt important to participate. It was a small but sincere manifestation in the cold and misty november lunch hour.

An imprisoned writer is never just an imprisoned writer – an imprisoned writer is always a concern for society as a whole. There are many ways to support writers who are imprisoned or under threat. It can be done through NGO:s such as PEN or Amnesty, and it can be done through singular manifestations and protests. It can also be done by keeping the imprisoned writers’ words available and relevant. For this, institutionsal structures in society are required, first and foremost perhaps, through libraries. By securing a strong library system, society is supporting imprisoned authors and by trusting librarians to do their job, the words of authors and journalists under threat are kept alive through persistence. This is important in these times of limited attention span in media and short term political projects. Freedom of speech must never be used by politcians to make self righteous projects in order to gain cheap political credit. Instead work on these issues must be taken seriously and recognized as a cornerstone of librarianship and as such, of society. Only with the unglamorous dullnesss of persistence can forces that wish to limit free speech be kept out of power.

söndag 27 oktober 2013

Recollections of a visit to Uruguay. Part 3: sea lions

After an intense week full of meetings, interviews, seminars, coctail parties, dinners, speeches and study visits, I had to get away from humans. I just needed to enjoy the company of other species too, and in Uruguay my interest had turned to a very special place.

On the last day before returning to Sweden, I left Montevideo and took off east along the coast to Punta del Este. There in the harbour, I went on a boat and sailed out on the South Atlantic ocean. Well, perhaps not sailed, the vessel itself was a commercial ”ferry” – a quite small motorboat. Anyway, after about 45 minutes I reached the goal of the day: Isla de Lobos. It is a small island about 8 km southeast of Punta del Este. On it lives one of the largest populations of sea lions in the world. Already some ten minutes before arriving at the island there was like a ”wall of smell” in the middle of the ocean. It intensified as the boat approached the cliffs of the small island. About 180 000 sea lions live there, and it is today a national park. Therefore it is not possible to go ashore, so instead the boat turned off its engines, and we floated close to the coastline. The air immediately filled with the sounds of the sea lions, mixed with their smell and the salty scent of the sea. It was some very sensual 30 minutes in the presence of these strange and beautiful creatures.

As curious and social as humans, no less talkative, but with a different language… and smell. It was such a relief (and fun) to spend time in their presence – in their own unique habitat. Going back, the captain told me to have a lookout for sperm whales. They had been seen close to the coastline earlier in the day. None was spotted though, but knowing that these giants lurked somewhere underneath made me curiously calm.

Beautiful libraries, interesting people and sea lions – all in a week’s work. Life is good.

fredag 25 oktober 2013

Recollections of a visit to Uruguay. Part 2: Study visits

Apart from holding a seminar at the Feria Internacional del Libro, the week I spent in Montevideo in early October primarily consisted of a number of study visits to various kinds of libraries and bookstores. I got the opportunity to visit the Parliamentary Library, the National Library and a series of public libraries in different parts of Montevideo. As always when I do these kinds of intense rounds of visits to different libraries in a new town, impressions pile up. Here I will only briefly touch upon some of the singular ones that are still with me.

The Parliament

There are no guards. I am guided through the whole parliament with its fifty shades of marble and its library and there is a feeling of trust that is rare in political environments these days. The library is painstakingly beautiful. It is open to the public and there are signs saying ”silence”.

The National Library

I am given a private tour of the National Library and shown through labyrinths and passages. Work is silence and intense. A table is set up in preparation for my visit, displaying rare photographs, letters, incunabliae and medieval manuscripts; folios and miniatures. I am shown a 13th century codex of hymns. Nobody knows how it got there. I am allowed to step into a freezer donated by the Bill Gates Library Foundation, used to preserve a unique and fragile collection of early 20th century photographs.

 Public libraries:

I visit several. In one, tango comes whispering through loudspeakers hidden on the shelves in the main room. Once a week the floor is cleared and the library hosts tango evenings. The head librarian loves tango. Only here, I find myself thinking, and perhaps somewhere in Finland.

I am taken to see La Biblioteca Maria Stagnero de Munar, a small castle in central Montevideo currently being transformed into a library and a cultural centre exclusively for children. It is an ambitious project and Prof. Gonzalo Halty at the División Promoción Cultural of the Intendencia de Montevideo, who is my host this afternoon, is proud. It is easy to understand why. This is the first centre/library of its kind i South America. I get a feeling that public libraries mean something to him. Suddenly he asks me, ”How should we continue?”. ”Don’t ask me”, I say. ”Ask the librarians. They’ll know what to do”.

At the Biblioteca Dr. Francisco Schinca (in Montevideo public libraries are named), I see a different reality, that of high ambition and no money. In an area far from the wealthy city centre and grand projects, I meet librarian Lourdes Díaz, who runs this little library with determination and admirable strenght. This is not a library the Intendencia wanted me to see, so I thank Carina Patrón of the Uruguay Library Association for taking me there. The area is filled with social problems, but this library prevails with only limited support from the fund distributing authorities. Mrs Díaz and I speak for over two hours; about the value of libraries, about the value of resistence and about the joy of creating a space for reading and culture for the people far from the official agenda, be it political, social or cultural.


The very last thing I do in Montevideo is to visit the Puro Verso bookstore in the Ciudad Vieja.  I had eaten lunch there earlier in the week – yes, they offer lunch among the books. I just had to go back. In Sweden you don’t find them any more, bookstores that sell, well, books - and perhaps some music. Wandering through the shelves of Puro Verso I just cannot help wondering what went wrong in my own country. How did we end up with bookstores selling more branded stationery trash than books? Such a waste. It is comforting to know that stores like this exist in other countries, where books and reading obviously is taken more seriously than in Sweden.

That, and so many other things I saw and heard in Montevideo during my week in the warm South American spring filled me with gratitude and, dare I say it… hope.

tisdag 22 oktober 2013

Recollections of a visit to Uruguay. Part 1: book fair seminar

In april, I was contacted by Mr. Jim Larsson at the Swedish-Uruguayan Cultural Institute about coming to Montevideo to talk about public libraries. I had never heard of this institute, and had to check twice that it really existed before getting back to him saying that I would definitively consider coming - but what was expected of me? The initial plan was that I should give a speech at a book fair in Montevideo on the role of public libraries in the Nordic countries, as Nordic literature would be one of the themes of the fair. After a couple of months of discussions and practical arrangements, the pieces finally came together, and I found myself on a plane bound for South America. During the course of our discussions, the event grew and as I landed in sunny Montevideo, I had a full week of work ahead of me.  

The main event was a seminar on October 10 at the 36th Feria International del Libro in Montevideo. The event gathered some 300 of the city’s librarians in a discussion on the future and the present state of Uruguayan libraries.

It was a highly inspirational event, and the discussion was very fruitful. It is interesting to note, that wherever you go, the fundamental problems and concerns about public libraries are pretty much the same. Material and political conditions may differ, but the need to find vital forms for cutural activities, platforms for critical political and cultural discussions is the same everywhere. A belief in the ability of public libraries in this respect was felt very clearly by the present librarians of Uruguay, a country which has a proud history of social welfare, but which suffered severly during the economic fall some ten years ago. The impression the visit gave me of the Uruguayan library sector is that it is both ambitious and determined to provide library services worthy of a welfare state to all citizens of the country.

There have been several political initiatives during the present government which carry the potential to be of significance for libraries. For instance, a decision to provide every child in a public school with his/her own laptop or iPad has meant that a large part of the population now, through the kids, have access to the international flow of knowledge and information on the Internet. This is a reform that at least at a first glance seems like a stroke of political genious in a country like Uruguay. Not only can it be helpful as school books are scarce and of poor quality, but it can open for new dimension in librarianship, as one of the most severe problems in the libraries I visited clearly was the lack of relevant media. Lack of media is, of course, a substantial problem in a library.

At the book fair seminar, many questions concerned the present state of Swedish and Nordic libraries, as they still are seen as models of ”the good library”. The view on Swedish society is still coloured by the social democratic welfare state of the 1960’s and 70’s, renowned throughout the world for its humanistic approach to politics. That we now have left that behind and entered a social era defined by other parametres than humanism and generosity seemed to come as a surprise to many. The reason for the almost glorifying view on Sweden is obvious – many intellectuals took refuge in Sweden in the 1970’s when political conditions in most of South America were unbearable. I had the pleasure of meeting several of them on this journey. Uruguay is the first country I have visited where the librarians and authors I met did not say ”we went to school together”, but in stead ”we went to jail together”. The stories they told were both dramatic and deeply moving. In such an environment politics and ideology is still visible and important, and the advocates of the current left wing presidency are concerned about the role of public libraries. They know that libraries can matter a lot, if treated well. The discussion went on for over an hour revealing structural problems, but also determination and willingness to solve them, not least through international dialogue. Some problems stood out; funding, for sure, but also the perhaps even more important question of how to think about libraries in local communities. I did not feel that I could give a lot of advice, but of course we do know some things from research. Instead it was my impression that the discussion in itself was of importance, and the fact that so many people were gathered at this same occasion provided a common ground for renewed discussons among librarians and politicians. Living under financially restrained conditions, as most Uruguayan public libraries do, it can be difficult to keep above the waterline of everyday decision making and practice. I hope that the seminar worked as an opportunity for those who attended to take a break from that and allow themselves to think ahead. It was obvious that not only questions, but also suggestions and solutions were there in that room on October 10. For me it was an important experience, and I wish that some Swedish librarians would have been there to listen, if only to hear the voices of dedication and determination of their Uruguayan colleagues.

The speech I gave is here (in Spanish).

onsdag 25 september 2013

Bye bye, library?

Recently, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by journalist Anders Mildner about the future of public libraries, for an upcoming article in Swedish magazine Vi. It turned out to be a nice piece where also two prominent Swedish librarians, Anna-Stina Takala and Mats Myrstener, discuss the role and legitimacy of public libraries, today and yesterday. It is well worth a read.

You find it here.

onsdag 11 september 2013

Prayer flags and the need for new thought in Library and Information Science

Library and Information Science is, as scientific disciplines tend to be, a rather rational endeavour. We promote and study cognitive and domain specific information behavior, rational divisions of knowledge and productive organizational structures of document management and library activities. Little room is left for that which is lying beside these cognitive and rational aspects of life. In fact very little we do is about, well, life. I sometimes feel that as being a bit tiresome, especially when I look around and see how people so much depend on knowledge, ideas and traditions that goes beyond our rational structures of knowledge organization, ultimately based as it is, on an aristotelian world view.
Fritz Machlup, the renowned Austrian-American economist who was one of the first to recognize and analyse knowledge as economically significant, mentions five types of knowledge that in equal amounts blend into the lives of most people. Not all at once, perhaps, but over the span of a life time they all play their parts in formulating a whole human being. The five types of knowledge he mentions are:
1.     Practical knowledge
2.     Intellectual knowledge
3.     Small talk and pastime knowledge
4.     Spiritual knowledge
5.     Unwanted knowledge
In LIS we almost exclusively address the two first categories. Even when we analyse spiritual knowledge, we do it in an intellectual manner, for instance in the divisions of religious movements and ideas in library classification systems.
Spiritual knowledge, however, seldom lends itself to such rationalization. Still it is to many people the foundation of their peronal knowledge systems, and still it is absolutely necessary to include sprirtual knowledge into ones life in order to navigate in this disturbingly shallow and yet complex society of today.
The other week, in preparation for our wedding, my wife ordered from San Francisco a package of Tibetan prayer flags. The company she bought them from operates from California, but trades with flags made in Tibet and Nepal. We decided to put them in the trees of our garden.  Autumn and darkness is coming quickly now, and they will bring their colors into the season of no colours, but not just that. They will also bring strenght, compassion, peace and wisdom into the wind surrounding our home.
Tibetan prayer flags come in groups of five, mostly in colours blue, white, red, green and yellow. They represent the elements and the five pure lights: blue is for sky and space, white is for wind, red is for fire, green is for water and yellow is for earth. In Tibetan buddhist tradition, balance between these elements brings harmony and health. It is an easy, yet powerful way of putting a knowledge system to work, promoting other values than those we have to struggle with on the daily basis of our professional and economic activities. The structure of the knowledge system represented by these prayer flags is a reminder of the limitations of rationality and that it is important not to waste our lives focussing too much on it.
I think it is time for Library and Information Science to start looking in new directions in order to develop knowledge that is relevant to people in a more complete way, thus creating a deeper understanding of the roles different forms of knowledge play in the lives of humans (and other species – everything is tied together as one). There are several non-intellectual knowledge forms waiting to be explored in ways that fit their own requirements. In order to approach them, however, we need to revise some of our acquired theoretical and methodological preconceptions.
Prayer flags wither in the wind, thread by thread. When doing so, they don’t send off prayers with each thread. Instead they paint the wind with the knowledge that harmony and compassion will come to all beings sharing this same wind.
I imagine that Fritz Machlup would appreciate this thought, even though he was an economist. One can only wish that more economists would study his work, and if some of them would choose to put prayer flags in their gardens to paint their immediate wind in the colours of harmony, well that might just create some change. By all means, that goes for LIS scholars too.

Picture of prayer flags in our garden is taken by Lotta Hansson Löthgren/1811.nu

onsdag 26 juni 2013

Presentation for DOCAM'13 is now up on Youtube

My presentation on the topic "Documentality as inscribed acts; ontology, technology and practice of professional codes of ethics in librarianship" is now uploaded on youtube.

The recordning was made for the Annual Meeting of the Document Academy, held in Tromsö, Norway 19-22 june 2013, due to the fact that I could not attend the conference in person.

The project on the documentality of librarianship ethics is in process now, and I will get back, not least here on NDL, with comments and reflections related to it further on.

The presentation itself start about 50 seconds into the clip. Enjoy:

tisdag 25 juni 2013

The Swedish Dewey Project - short comment on its final report

During the last five years the National Library of Sweden (KB) has been running a project to prepare the Swedish library sector for the use of Dewey Decimal Classification, DDC. Now the final report of this project has arrived, and it is an interesting read.
The overall aim of the ”Swedish Dewey Project” was to develop the tools to make it possible for libraries in Sweden to introduce DDC. The decision to actually do has, however, been left to each library.  As of today, some 30 libraries has left the Swedish SAB-system and introduced DDC in their classification practice and/or shelving. Almost all of them are research libraries, only two public libraries have yet taken the step.
The reasons for the proposed transformation of Swedish classification practice has been threefold: the international character of bibliographic practice, rationalisation – to reduce double classification in parallel systems, and increased quality in classification practice. The argumentation is simple, but relevant: most of the literature in research libraries are already classified in DDC when bought; the DDC is the the most widely spread classification system in the world, today used in more than 135 countries and translated into some 30 languages; it is well kept and frequently updated.
The change to DDC is singularly the most significant change in Swedish library life during the last century, at least if we look at collection manangement and the organization of stock. We know from experience that such changes are not easy to accomplish, nor is it easy to make everyone happy. When KB decided in 2008 to change into DDC, there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the aim and consequences of this decision. The public libraries in particular, felt left in a situation that they neither had asked for, nor knew how to handle – the need for DDC was expressed exclusively from primarily large research libraries. Reading the now published report has really nothing to add to this uncertainty – are the public libraries expected to use DDC or not? However, that is not a question to be answered in this report.
The project can be said to have focussed on two primary targets – (1) translation into a Swedish version of DDC, and the development of system requirements for it to work in a Swedish environment, and (2) education of librarians. On both these issues, the project seems to have been rather successful. The problems described concerning translation and conversion of codes appear quite forseeable, and the educational efforts have been constructed in a dialogue with both the library sector and representatives from the Library and Information Science educational departments. One practical detail which should not be undersestimated is the translation of the textbook Dewey Decimal Classification: Principles and Application by Lois Mai Chan and Joan S. Mitchell – this book is now being used in the basic training in classification i Swedish LIS educations, preparing new librarians in DDC from the very start of their professional life.
One thing that is worth noting in the felt shortcomings of the project is how they mostly seem to come from lack of resourses and short sighted planning horizons from the National Library. Parts of the project simply seem to have been carried through in spite of, and not because of, the National Library Management. For that, huge credit must be given to Magdalena Svanberg and her colleagues who have lead the project through to its end with admirable dedication, determination and skill.
Now that the final report of the Swdish Dewey Project is ready, we can see that it also triggers questions. What now? Will KB strategically uphold the development of the Swedish DDC? Will further initiatives be taken to argue for the benefits of DDC to an evidently reluctant public library sector? Are there any such benefits?

The final report of the Swedish Dewey Project is here, (in Swedish).

The picture below is a snapshot taken as I was given the opportunity to welcome Magdalena Svanberg to the LIS department at Linnaeus University in march 2011 for a lecture and discussion, as part of the educational programme of the Swedish Dewey Project - an occasion much appreciated by our students.

Joacim Hansson, LNU and Magdalena Svanberg, KB

söndag 23 juni 2013

Society and the humanities - a eulogy

Summer is over us and with it, a short relief from the burdens of administration. Some call it vacation. Others use this period to think and write. This is also a good time to reflect on the conditions under which we work in the humanities and at the universities at large.
The faculty where I work, the Arts and Humanities Faculty at Linnaeus University is a good one - nice, creative people who produce much and good research. But, in the eyes of the university management and in the eyes of national research policy makers, it is a rather bad faculty. It does not attract enough ”external funding” for them to be happy. For that, the factulty will be fiscally punished in the upcoming budget. The fact that the lack of ”external funding” does not seem to affect the research outcome in any negative manner (quite possibly the opposite) goes without recognition.
Research today is formulated as a form of competetion, where the singular most critical success factor is the attraction of ”external funding”. For the humanities this is absolutely devastating. Forcing humanistic scholars to engage in the quest for money from research councils that spread their graces over less than 10 % of the submitted applications is nothing short of a waste of time. Besides, every active scholar knows that the only thing that counts in the long run is the quality of the published research - the results, in whatever environment they will find their place. The system today fosters another priority; that of expected research. It is more important to submit suggestions for research than to actually go through with them. Although that might not be the intent of our present political decision makers, it is for sure the outcome, since most applications will gain no interest what so ever by the research councils.
Today there is a discussion in Sweden about the role of the humanities. It is a kind of ”debate” which occurs every now and then. This time around the main question is not only the usual attempt to show an intrinsic value of the humanities to society (we’re ”good”), but also how we can adapt humanistic research to the present system of research finance – how to make the humanities attract more ”external funding”. No one asks the question ”why should we?”.
Research is not a competative endeavor – especially not that of humanistic and cultural studies. The obvious alternative to the present system is to directly provide the universities with the funding needed by their active scholars. The ones populating the diverse and fluid structures of disciplines within these fields - doctoral students, lecturers and professors - are the ones who should decide what research to persue. The present system forcing us to constantly scribble down applications for ”external funding” is of course highly political and a direct enemy of the slow, creative process that is the mother of all humanistic scholarship. Achieving scientific results takes time, and the constrains of tight time limits and evaluation demands is not beneficial for neither process nor results.
Some say that this is an idealistic way of reasoning. I don’t think it is. By saying that it is, one is admitting the necessity of the present system, that ”this is the way it is”. That is a highly unintellectual stand. I (still) believe that society is shaped not by economic standards, but by the will of its citizens.  The power over politicians of administratrators and financiers is strong though, and by admitting them to set the rules, cultural studies and humanities research are bound to lose. We see their triumph all around us. We live today, at least in Sweden, in a society which is filled with people who despite their good (often university) educations are cultural ignorants. Hundreds of thousands well equipped and capable of doing their task in the production apparatus, but unable to relate it to an overall reason or to associate with the depth of human experience accessible to us through religions, literature, ethics, art, philosophy, drama and music. These people are easy to manipulate, something which of course has been noted by several thinkers during the last century, such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Elias Canetti and Zygmunt Bauman. Fostering citizens like that may be economically productive, but in the end it is socially devastating. Thus, it is not the humanities that is the problem. It is the politicians turned technocrats, treating research like industrial excercise, treating culture as a burden – they are the problem.

So, in the firm belief that society always is the result of our collective intentions, I propose a shift of focus. No more should we ask what humanities can do for this society, but what this society of ours can do for the humanities. If so, we have a starting point. It is, basically, a matter of integrity.

Alas – summer: in a spirit of love and strength I leave you this time with Alfred Schnittke’s brilliant paraphrase (K)ein Sommernachtstraum.

By the way, on this particular recording, made by Malmö Symphony Orchestra in the mid 1980's, my father plays bass trombone:


tisdag 11 juni 2013

Clip from Professorial Inauguration Lecture of 2010 now on Youtube

A 30 minute excerpt of my inaugural lecture as professor in Library and Information Science has been discovered and uploaded on Youtube. The full lecture was just over two hours long, and the part now found is from around the middle of it.
The lecture was given in may 2010 at Linnaeus University in Växjö, the day before the formal inaugural ceremony.
The clip is in Swedish.

A written version of the lecture has been published in Humanetten and later also in the book Folkets bibliotek?


tisdag 9 april 2013

Of railway stations, universities and the curse of corporate ideals in free spaces

I am very fond of railway stations. Just as I like airports. There is something very democratic among travellers in those spaces, where everyone is there only to get to the next destination. At the same time, however, they are also places for contemplation and observation. We see each other in a different way there. We are stripped of our everyday roles and images, even though some do their best to uphold them. We are very (in a deep sense) human there and that, I like. Somehow it makes me feel less lonely in this strange and, for me at least, yet unresolved world.
A couple of days ago, I went to a meeting in Stockholm, as I do a couple of times a year. The train ride takes about three and a half hours, and I know the town well. I quite enjoy those trips, although I would never like to live there. When the meeting was done and I had a couple of hours to kill before returning, I decided to go back to the central station to get something to eat – there are a couple of places serving at least decent vegetarian meals there – and to read a good book (right now Frank Zappa’s hilarious autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book).  As I strolled around the ever expanding waiting hall, I noticed that something had changed. Practically all the benches where people used to sit, rest, read, talk to each other or observe were gone. The huge waiting hall was… empty. If I now wanted to sit and do those nice things, I had to go in to one of the many coffee shops that had been established along the sides of the hall. Or simply wander around in any of the many new shops selling stuff I don’t need. There had obviously been a change in the way that people were treated in this old, open building. They are no longer travellers or citizens. They are consumers. To sit and read, observe or talk do not render money, so away with the benches and put the people where they have to pay to sit. Then they can do whatever they are doing while waiting for trains. It is a striking picture of social development (or degradation). Social space has turned in to economic space. Thank you, Ronald Reagan (who started it all) and the subsequent non-thinkers of present Swedish politics. 

As I got on the train it struck me that I had not only seen a wrecked social space, I had seen a picture of Swedish universities – not least my own. Departments are seen as production units, students as consumers moulded to a marketplace of (un)employment and even the thought of ”free” research is opressed in the race for ”external funding”. A place where we once could read, observe, talk to each other, and see each other as human beings has been replaced by a system where intellectual space has turned into economic space. No benches are left to sit on.
My own university is extremely senitive to this development. Not only has it recently been re-organized so that it is now run more or less like a private corporation – all in the name of New Public Management. It has also been subjected to a large donation of research funds which is well on the way of killing every inch of free critical research in any of its faculties – not least in the arts and humanities faculty to which I belong. Suddenly the whole university is running like crazy for an, although ridiculously large, amount of money tied to ”research themes” dictated by ignorant corporate representatives without the slightest clue of how research is being done. Of course, critical (or ”free”) research is not what is sought for. Highly qualified researchers are used as marionettes in the pursue of further economic growth. Is that what we really need? It would have been a lot better if the absurd amount of money in this fund would be taken in by the tax system and then distributed to the Swedish universities to take care of without the muddling of corporate ignorance. This, of course, will not happen. It is too late. Instead I see good and capable colleagues nervously discussing how to "adjust" their research interests to fit requirements set by people who know very little, but have a hell of a lot of money. Somehow, the will of these people have been mixed up with the needs of society – there is of course no similarity there. It is just so sad.
Someday this system will crumble and break under its own weight. But not yet. As we wait for that to happen, is it possible to oppose, to stand beside all this? Of course. By not applying for their money. By focussing on ones own research, without letting others dictate the problems studied. By not running in the same direction as everybody else, just because management tells you to. By not believing the myth saying that ”this is the way it must be – the way it is”. Disobedience in these matters might bring some personal disadvantages, it might even lead some symbolic punishment. It is a hard system we have had imposed upon us. However, it would, above all, be a manifestation of integrity, and of belief in the value of free thought and critical research - in contemplation, talking, reading, observing. In order to do that we need somewhere free to sit. So, let us begin by carrying back the benches.    

onsdag 27 mars 2013

On Academic Library Support for Scholarly Publishing

Together with my good friend and colleague, Dr Krister Johannesson of Skövde University, I have recently wrapped up a two-year project in which we have studied the everyday experiences of academic librarians in their work with researchers. Special focus was put on issues concerning publication strategies and work with Open Access. The project, which was done without any ”external funding”, involved some 25 librarians in three library units at Linnaeus University and Skövde University, who participated in repeated focus-group interviews and wrote log books of their daily work over a period of six months. This provided us with a very rich material which was encoded with the analysis software NVivo and boiled down into two articles. We’ve had a good run and the project turned out very well.

We would like to extend a big ”Thank You” to the participating librarians, who put down both time and effort into this. To paraphrase the good Morrissey: the pleasure and the privilege was ours. We hope the results will contribute to further discussions on these issues – both within the participating libraries and inte the academic library sector in general.

The main article is now published in The Journal of Academic Librarianship:

Librarians' Views of Academic Library Support for Scholarly Publishing: An Every-day Perspective

Joacim Hansson, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden
Krister Johannesson, Skövde University, Sweden 


This article reports on a study of academic librarians' views of their work and possibilities regarding support for researchers' publishing. Institutional repositories and Open Access are areas being dealt with in particular. Methods used are highly qualitative; data was gathered at two Swedish university libraries over a six month period through focus group interview sessions and personal logs by informants. Findings indicate that attitudes are often in collision with practicalities in the daily work in libraries. Even though they have a high degree of knowledge and awareness of scholarly publication patterns, librarians often feel insecure in the approach of researchers. There is a felt redirection in the focus of academic librarianship, from pedagogical information seeking tasks towards a more active publication support, a change which also includes a regained prominence for new forms of bibliographical work. Although there are some challenges, proactive attitudes among librarians are felt as being important in developing further support for researchers' publishing.

  • Academic libraries;
  • Scholarly publishing;
  • Open access;
  • Sweden;
  • Organizational identity;
  • Focus group methodology
The DOI of the full article is here

The second article from the project is written in Swedish and published in a Danish anthology on current academic library challenges:

Johannesson, Krister & Hansson, Joacim (2012) ”Akademiska bibliotekariers förhållningssätt till forskares publiceringsstrategier – med särskilt avseende på frågan om Open Access”. Viden i spil: forskningsbibliotekers funktioner i forandring, Eds: Helene Hoyrup, Hans Jorn Nielsen & Birger Hjorland, Copenhagen: Samfundslitteratur, pp. 280-302.

The book can be found and ordered here

Krister Johannesson and Joacim Hansson
Photo by Ingeborg Ekman Telehagen /LNU

tisdag 19 mars 2013

Wittgenstein, Knowledge Organization and the value of ginger

When Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1921 stated, as the seventh and last main proposition of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, that ”whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”, no one thought that he would actually take it literally. He would never publish anything as ambitious during his lifetime again and only after his death came out the ”follow-up”, Philosophical Investigations, which denied much of what had been said in the Tractatus, although he had claimed to therein have solved all philosophical problems.  After his long silence he formulated the idea (to simplify dangerously) that instead of the extensional meaning of a word being that in the world that it referred to (the picture theory), it should be defined by its use. A word (or a term) can mean many things in various contexts and discourses, and contains all these potential meanings. The specific meaning reveals itself only in relation to how it is put to use in different discourses.
This formulation of the function of language is interesting for Library and Information Science (LIS) in that it directly affects research on classification and the organization of knowledge. The meaning of terms is what constitutes the basis of ”subjects” and relations in knowledge organization systems. If we study the epistemological discussion in relation to bibliographic classification, for instance in the erudite writings of Elaine Svenonius, we find that the ”late Wittgenstein” strikes down on most of the underlying epistemological assumptions of classification throughout history. No small thing. After centuries of Aristotelian classification where each class must be both exclusive and exhaustive, with each subject in one and only one place, the door was suddenly open for other interpretations of the possible organiziation of knowledge. Subject terms could have different meanings in different areas, contexts and situations. Svenonius offers a good and simple example: ”mercury” – metal, planet, car, Greek god etc etc. Classification had to face, as a consequence of Wittgenstein’s thought, such practical issues as how to treat homonymes and polysemes – ”Polysemy abounds”, Svenonius exclaimes.
The turn from the Aristotelian coloured picture theory of the Tractatus, where a subect in a classification scheme mirrored ”reality”, to a view on subjects seen in analogy with family resemblances led to, among other things, fuzzy set theory and use of ambiguity operators in indexing systems.
Reading the literature on knowledge organization one sometimes get the feeling that the end now was reached. If language used in indexing and classification is not absolute, neither in relation to truth nor to reality, but instead relating to discourse and context, we do indeed have a huge set of interesting challenges to deal with - and so has been done.
Philosophical investigations was first published in 1953, two years after Wittgenstein’s death. Even though influential visions of new modes of organizing knowledge had been formulated by Paul Otlet in the 1930’s and Vannevar Bush in the 1940’s, the environment of these thoughts were firmly set in the pre-computorized world – a world, some would say, much simpler. Aristotle reigned still.
Today we have a somewhat different situation. New metaphores and new modes of thinking to intellectually grasp a technology we could not conceive of just a few decades ago seem to be needed. The vast dissemination and lack of organization of knowledge in today’s digital document environments challenge us. It seems to be the very practice of post-modernism (which owe so much to Wittgenstein), that is in front of us. It is in this context that the concept of rhizome has come to relevance in LIS. It was formulated by Deleuze & Guattari in the mid 1970’s. Most people today try as good as they can to avoid French post-modern philosophers, and Deleuze has mostly gone unnoticed in the LIS literature, but in an interesting way the concept of rhizome has stuck, and started its own (rhizome-like) life in the literature of the discipline. Lyn Robinson and Mike Maguire has made a good overview of the relevance and use of the concept.
Rhizome? Well, it is a term taken from botany. There, it is a subterranean stem structure consisting of ”nodes” where roots may spring out of virtually every place of it, in every direction. Most of us encounters rhizomes in the kitchen, as ginger. The rhizome is thus seen metaphorically as the way in which information and knowledge connect on the world wide web and in digital document environments. From every place, anytime, in any direction. The language theory of Wittgenstein is not seen as sufficient anymore. The Internet is an anarchic mass of documents which links to each other in unpredictable ways, making systems for information and knowledge organization face completely new challenges. The question is, of course, how revolutionary this is. Has it not always been like this? Perhaps technical tools have just made the chaos of reality explicit? How do the ”old” metaphores (the tree of knowledge, nets of knowledge) hold up against a dynamic rhizome-like structures of documents? We cannot say. What is clear though is the the need for new metaphores and modes of analysis in knowledge organization are considered to be acute. We may lean on Aristotle, and we may lean on Wittgenstein, and in many aspects they of course still hold sway. Knowledge is not its presentation, the Internet is not our knowledge – it is merely a technical tool which we in many ways still have to figure out what to do with, both in terms of epistemology and in oragnizational practice. Those who say we have already figured it out are not worth believing. Many should – like Wittgenstein – withdraw into silence, think hard and come back when they have something to say on the "novelty" of knowledge today. Perhaps the rhizome metaphor will show to be stronger than more established structures of knowledge classification. Perhaps it does best to keep in the kitchen – the health benefits of ginger seem, at least for now, indisputable.     

Suggested readings:

Svenonius, Elaine (2004) The epistemological foundations of knowledge representations. Library Trends, Vol. 52(3), pp. 571-587.

Robinson, Lyn & Maguire, Mike (2010) The rhizome and the tree: changing metaphors for information oragnisation. Journal of Documentation, Vol. 66(4), pp. 604-613.