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IL2012 Keynote: Library as Platform

Oct - 22 - 2012
Nicole C. Engard

David Weinberger was up as our keynote speaker to talk to us about the library as a platform. David is such an awesome speaker and cover so much ground quickly in his enthusiasm that I’m sure I’m skipping some major points below, but here’s what I could type while he was talking :)

David starts by pointing out that while digitization is great, the real power is in the network, connecting the pieces together, not just digitizing content.

The library as platform provides a unifying framework, allows us to take social networks seriously (take then as a fundamental thing that’s happening in our culture that’s really changing the culture), and increases the value of the library (both real and perceived).

J.L. Austin the philosopher talks about the “real”. What is David distinguishing real platform from? He’s distinguishing platform from portal. We need to continue to give portal access, but we need the platform to build the community network around our content.

One type of community network is a knowledge network. Knowledge networks are really really really really big! In fact they don’t have a circumference. And they’re linked in the way no other networks are.

Knowledge networks are hard for people to understand because in our culture scale (sizes of things) are so central to our culture. Basically (up until now) knowledge has resided in paper books and libraries. We have a limitation to storage of knowledge because of the size of these buildings. These limitations have also led to knowledge being filtered. And so we have shaped knowledge around these vessels. David thinks this is far from excellent (as do I).

So, now we have a new medium for finding and sharing and storing knowledge … the Internet. David is saying that knowledge now lives in networks, in the connection between posts and articles and pages on the Internet.

Networked science is one example of how this network is working well. David showed us an article from a paper in 1919 about an eclipse. If you wanted to learn more about the topic you were stuck in the square of the article. There was no way to get more information because print was your only option.

In 2011, however, an article is published on TimeScience mentioning another article and if you want to learn more about it you go to arxiv.org and look at the article and find more information. Up around the article then grows a web of more information, reinterpretations of the data, questions and answers, misinformation, zealots and more.

The net is exposing a long-hidden truth … we don’t agree about anything … With the network though we’re finding a way to argue “fruitfully.”

One way to maintain these discussions/disagreements is to “fork” them. Forking is taking the discussion and moving it to another place, another page, another email thread, etc. This is seen in namespaces on the network. David showed us a thread that appeared on the Dark Knight trailer on YouTube where people started talking about the validity of circumcision. While not appropriate in that place, it was a good productive discussion that can be forked off and discussed elsewhere.

Another example David shared of the success of networks lies with software developers. Software developers now live in the faster most efficient learning ecosystem ever. You can go to sites like Stack Overflow where people share their knowledge and best practices and learn from each other. A side note from me – this is why open source works! The shared knowledge produces a better product and makes it work in more environments. Developers in open source and on these shared knowledge networks are willing to admit that they don’t know everything and they’re generous in sharing their knowledge with others. This learning and sharing goes on in the public so the public sphere gets more intelligent and learns more. This type of shared knowledge and learning isn’t happening nearly enough in libraries!

Our task as librarians is to try and make these networks smarter. We want these networks to add value so that people get smarter. This is why David like’s the idea of library as platform.

Libraries aren’t solely about the assets that they have and what’s analog and what’s digital, but about our range of services.

David broke this in to three parts:

Top layer: network of people ideas and works. This is your portal access.

Next: the api tools and services. This is for the developers, this provides the tools to allow people to mix and mash your data.

Then: data and metadata. The separation between data and metadata is no longer quite different things. If you remember the author, but not the title, the author becomes metadata for finding the data (the title). Metadata is now a lever for picking up data. This does mean that we have to rethink privacy and how we can use/share this data within those confines.

Library platforms need to be though of as local. We’re serving physical communities and do have funding limitations that prevent us from making our platforms global. Physical localities provide much of the required sameness needed for enabling conversations. Our platforms are connected to the network though, so we have access to the global information network. We need our local platforms to connect to the wider network.

David suggests changes to Ranganathan’s rules by adding ‘Every book it’s network’ to the list of the rules. And while the library is a growing organism, the library is also a connected organism.


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