NAHSL 2013: Knowledge Today – Too Big to Know?

November 22, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Posted in NAHSL Annual Meeting 2013, Professional Development | Leave a comment

I appreciate NAHSL’s support which allowed me to attend the conference in Falmouth this year. The speakers were excellent and the setting phenomenal. Thank you for a fantastic experience!

I wanted to focus my report on the presentation by David Weinberger from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and the BerkmanCenter. His talk was clarifying and inspiring.

Weinberger’s talk clarified the traditional definition of knowledge as a matter of filtering, as an orderly construct, as private before public and as a finite entity – concepts with a stopping point. I recognized all of these assumptions as ones that librarians use to frame their professional work. Within the context of his talk, I appreciated that this understanding of knowledge was limited by the publishing process, and even by the medium of paper. I have started to imagine a world where the concept of a published article breaks free from the pdf. Because truly – the pdf only really serves as a proxy for the 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper. A real shift in our concept of what a published article can be will also explode the pdf model.

The new concept of knowledge is an expansion of the tradition. Instead of knowledge as a filtering process (i.e. removal) – there is knowledge as a scaling and linking process. Scaling allows for a control of content volume, while linking provides the avenues to explore further. Knowledge is then a network – not a finite entity. Knowledge is inherently public, and learning becomes a public activity. For these reasons the library should serve more as a platform (a location for knowledge, networking, learning) and think of itself less as a portal (a location for access to discrete content providers.)

A re-imagining of the library as platform is exciting, and also challenging. We know that our content providers’ terms are restrictive, and that our patron base is limited and defined by our institutions. For many of us, our technological skills and our opportunity to influence institutional network decisions are limited. While we may be open to the concepts described by Weinberger here, we are also confounded by a lack of resources to implement them.

His talk clarified my own assumptions about knowledge, and illustrated how those assumptions truly unravel in the new knowledge paradigm. The talk was also inspiring: although the vision of a library as  platform for knowledge, networking and learning is a challenge – it is also an ideal I can now articulate and work toward in my institution.

By Dina McKelvy, MLS, AHIP
Library Manager for Automation and Planning / Maine Medical Center Library

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