Question: What have librarians, IT services and academics got in common (apart from occassionally questionable dress sense)?
Answer: All have one key element of their role undermined or removed by the web, which can be loosely described as provision of content or service.
Back around 1999 when the likes of David Noble were bemoaning that the internet would make academics redundant (he was the Andrew Keen of his day), us e-learning advocates would argue that merely providing content is not all that educators did. Which led to the oft-quoted move from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side.
Librarians have also faced a similar challenge from the internet. When everything is available and Google can find you it, what is the role of the library or the librarian? Part of their function was to store, organise and then help us find physical resources. This changes fundamentally when things become digital. For a start, the idea that librarians need to decide which one, and only one, category a book can go in, seems absurd in an Amazon world. It just isn’t a task we require someone to do on our behalf anymore.
Then last week Brian Kelly posted his talk about IT services and web 2.0. I posted a comment about my recent Google conversion, claiming the type of tools I could get was an order of magnitude better externally. Andy Powell has a post about social networks and IT services, stating:
So what is the lesson here for institutions and institutional IT services?
I think they need to take note. Whilst (in some cases) they may have
the technical competence to build global-social social services, it is
not typically part of their function to do so. To put it bluntly,
their business is to serve the institution, not to serve the world. As a result, IT services have to begin seeing themselves as the enablers rather than the providers of such services.
I think Andy hits the nail on the head here. This is actually the same solution for all three groups mentioned here. There are two basic rules we should follow here:
1) In a world where content and technologies are free don’t fight against them – you cannot compete as the sole provider.
2) Such a world is disaggregated, and complex. Therefore there is a need to help users with the skill set in combining these disaggregated components into a meaningful whole, be that a PLE (if you’re IT services), a set of resources (if you’re a librarian), or a course (if you’re an educator).
So we are less providers now, more frameworkers. We need a new term for this – I propose the term my daughter uses for anyone who is less than generous to her – a ‘meaner’, since our role is to help add meaning to disparate components. Meaners of the world unite!