Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
This article in Library Journal on the Dewey Dilemma made me think specifically about how we control information available to patrons in libraries. The article highlights different approaches libraries are taking toward the Dewey decimal system. Some libraries are getting rid of Dewey all together, and grouping their non-fiction collections in broad categories, following the retail model of book stores like Barnes & Noble. Other libraries are keeping Dewey, but relabelling their collections to reflect categories patrons are looking for, like cookbooks and home decor.
After more than a year working in a public library, I understand patron’s frustration with non-fiction books. What they are looking for is difficult to find, even once they have found it in the online catalog and know which number to locate. I am of the opinion that patrons should be given the tools to find the books themselves. We at the public library espouse the idea “teach them to do it themselves” with regards to computer help, catalog searching, etc. Yet I see a hesitancy, at least my particular public library, to design the library in such a way that it can be navigated by a lay person without the help of staff.
Although as a staff member I am more than happy to help patrons, I actually feel like we are withholding information from them. There is something to be said for making the library work for the patrons. Just my idea for loosening control.
The portrayal of information.
One thing I read this week reminded me of two SI class exercises I had recently. We were asked to get into small groups and brainstorm ideas. In each of the classes we had four people in our group. Our guidelines were fairly clear for each of the groups, and our task not especially difficult. Yet—
“For instance, in a well-documented study, a team of highly committed managers with individual IQs above 120 were found to exhibit a collective IQ of less than 63 when working together.” -Open University, bbc.co.uk
This scenario was played out in one of my classrooms. Not that we were all individually massively intelligent, but we at least could form coherent sentences. The issue was that we could not work together. Either because of different personality types, varying grasps on the desired outcome, effort, or compromise, the entire session was not productive.
I have no doubt that given the task as an individual, we each would have something completed, and most likely in a shorter amount of time. So why do we work in groups? Is it because we need to learn to work in groups for our future careers? Do we need to recognize the validity of other’s opinions? Why can meetings be so unproductive sometimes?
The key seems to be that we need to think about things differently. I will admit to not really understanding the necessity of reading the Ackoff [“Towards a System of Systems Concepts”] article until I had finished Boulding [“General Systems Theory”] and the BBC Systems Practice reading. Essentially we are learning that there is a complex way of thinking when systems are involved, and systems are usually involved. Our bodies, our families, our workplace, our economy, our education, our Earth…these are all systems. Now to learn *how* to think about them.
23 September 09
In the Information Theory readings for this week, it became clear to me why we spent so much time studying Shannon in 500 last year. Despite all the math we did during discussion section last year, and all my questions, I never really understood the point. The Encyclopedia Britannica article perfectly demonstrates the need for what Shannon did. Through the example of Victor Hugo’s punctuation correspondence, and the observation that the punctuation would have no meaning without context, I finally understood the necessity of studying the technical aspect of messages irregardless of semantic meaning. Thank you, Encyclopedia Britannica. I could have used you twelve months ago.
The ITC corporation’s influence in rural India is nothing short of amazing. I came to this story from the perspective of someone who has lived in a rural third world country trying to help them sustain local agriculture. A few things this article brought to mind.
First, the fact that ITC is not an NGO, and is profiting from this venture. This seems to me a vital key to success. When motivated by money (and the potential loss of it), typical problems like month-long delays and absenteeism might not be a factor.
Second, the fact that ITC is not an NGO could mean they want to influence farmers or crops to benefit themselves. As a devil’s advocate, I could see this meaning that certain crops, because they are more profitable, would be continually planted on the same field. Maybe crop rotation and sustainability would be secondary to immediate monetary gains.
I would hope that the system itself, among ITC and the farmers and their land, does its job of regulation. The idea and its benefits are far-reaching, and it’s hard to see a down side. I am a hearty supporter of anything that enables villagers to act by themselves, for themselves.
By far the awesomest thing I read this week was the observation of an Indian woman running her own internet kiosk in Tamil Nadu. Rosy is basicallyl an uber reference librarian for her entire village. The problems that the villagers have with regards to health, communication with family members and information about their professions are universal. This exact type of system, with a single internet connection and someone knowledgeable to be the intermediary, could affect significant change anywhere it was placed. One of the main challenges in installing the internet I saw in Africa was that no one knew how to get the information they sought. I would love to see this in my village in Lesotho.
Herdboy in the mountains of Lesotho.