«The Work that Vanished Antrittsvorlesung 28 October 2008 Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Institut für Bibliotheks- und Informationswissenschaft Die ...»
The Work that Vanished
28 October 2008
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Institut für Bibliotheks- und
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Copyright: Alle Rechte liegen beim Autor Berlin 2009
Engelbert Habekost Forschungsabteilung der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Unter den Linden 6 D–10099 Berlin
Forschungsabteilung der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Unter den Linden 6 D–10099 Berlin Heft 158 ISSN 1618-4858 (Printausgabe) ISSN 1618-4866 (Onlineausgabe) ISBN 978-3-86004-233-5 Gedruckt auf 100 % chlorfrei gebleichtem Papier Michael Seadle The Work that Vanished 1 Introduction This lecture is based on a pun, or rather on a linguistic ambiguity.
The word ‘work’ in English can mean both an intellectual product such as a book or journal, or even data from a scientiﬁc experiment. Work can also mean tasks or jobs such as those that librarians have today. This lecture involves vanishing acts for both.
Why have I chosen to speak in English? There are two reasons.
The personal one is that English is my mother tongue and an important lecture ought not suffer from an imperfect accent and ﬂawed grammar. The more scholarly reason is that, for better or for worse, English has become the dominant scholarly language in the world of library and information science (LIS). Works in English are read worldwide. Works in German are read in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
2 The Research Question Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin invited me here to transform the Institut für Bibliotheks- und Informationswissenschaft into an internationally competitive I-School like the School of Information at the University of Michigan or the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois.1 Part of this effort involves persuading our students to follow international scholarly standards, such as offering a clear research 1 The Institut für Bibliotheks- und Informationswissenschaft (in English:
Berlin School of Library and Information Science) was elected to the iCaucus of the iSchool Project in 2009.
question, an explicit and acceptable research method, and a literature discussion that puts their topic into the context of current scholarly discourse. My students will rightly and properly complain if I do not follow my own standards.
My research question looks at the reason why I was brought here and what I hope to do. Speciﬁcally the question is what transformations have taken place in the LIS ﬁeld that persuaded the university to hire me and what consequences do they have for practice, teaching, and research.
The answer interrelates the two meanings of the word ‘work’, partly because fears about both jobs vanishing and digital documents vanishing grow from the set of transformations that have been taking place over the last thirty years.
3 The Research Method My academic training was as an historian, but historians (at least in the US) are notoriously methodologically eclectic and I realized sometime not long after ﬁnishing my dissertation that I was in fact intellectually more akin to the cultural anthropologists who had so strongly inﬂuenced my own Doktorvater. Within academic anthropology I am essentially a follower of Clifford Geertz.
Anthropology is an empirical discipline, but the data tend to be impressionistic rather than concrete. Geertz was well aware of this problem and addressed the problem of persuasion in a number of his works. For him the solution was essentially literary. He argues that it was neither “a factual look or an air of conceptual elegance“ that mattered, but rather persuading readers of having truly “been there.” (Geertz 1988) Cultural anthropologists are not novelists, of course, or merely academic journalists. How people use language matters greatly, particularly the linguistic distinction made by Ferdinand Saussure between the signiﬁer and the signiﬁed. Such differences between word and meaning offer an empirical basis for recognizing social groupings, particularly within studies of contemporary cultures.
My research method has been, in effect, to live as a native among the tribe of librarians for the last thirty years without quite losing my perspective as an observer. This is hoary practice for ethnographers when it comes to exotic societies and it is increasingly common for ethnographers to observe their own cultures. Corporations in fact hire ethnographers today to help with a variety of external tasks (such as understanding their customers) and internal tasks (such as communicating between programmers and business operations). Libraries in the US hire anthropologists as well, as the well-received study by Nancy Foster and Susan Gibbons shows. (Foster & Gibbons 2007) The lab-books for anthropologists are the notes they make based on their observations. Today these are not always written notes.
They can be pictures, videos, voice recordings. Occasionally there are circumstances where notes cannot be made immediately, perhaps because the observer is too deeply involved in the event itself. Memory is one of the most treacherous (and most common) forms of note taking. Nonetheless it plays a key role in the selection of the information.
Data plays a role where possible, and anthropologists of contemporary societies generally cite statistics and similar evidence.
Nonetheless, as Geertz says, proof in anthropology is more than an assemblage of data.
Footnotes help, verbatim texts help even more, details impress, numbers normally carry the day. But in Anthropology anyway they remain somehow ancillary: necessary of course, but insufficient, not quite to the point. The problem – rightness, warrant; objectivity, truth – lies elsewhere, rather less accessible to dexterities of method. (Geertz 1995) Persuasion, at least in this lecture, depends on painting a picture of the world that you the listeners believe, or at least do not entirely disbelieve. That must be in part a literary as well as scholarly achievement, and that is one of the ways in which my methodology ﬁts with other disciplines in Philosophical Faculty I such as European ethnography, history and philosophy.
4 Scholarly context
For this lecture there are two scholarly contexts that matter. The most speciﬁc of these is the discourse over digital preservation that began with the articles by Anne R. Kenney and Lynne K. Personius about the “The Cornell / Xerox / Commission on Preservation and Access Joint Study in Digital Preservation”.
(Kenney & Personius 1992). While I was not part of the project team, I interacted with them on a daily basis. I will not go into detail here about all of the articles that followed on this topic, but I will mention a few key contributions, such as the research that Margaret Hedstrom and Clifford Lampe did on emulation (Hedstrom & Lampe N.d.), the published research revolving around LOCKSS and integrity-checking (Rosenthal, Robertson, Lipkis, Reich & Morabito 2005), and perhaps my own look at social models (Seadle 2006). In Germany the work of Ute Schwens and Hans Liegmann and of Reinhard Altenhöner is important for its emphasis on readability and usability – issues that clearly matter to the library community. (Schwens & Liegmann 2004) (Altenhöner 2006) The other scholarly context is broader. It has to do with fears librarians have about the future of their profession. We see artifacts of this context in research about the library as place, where the role of the building often seems bound with our identity as a profession. (Freeman, Bennett, Demas, Frischer, Peterson & Oliver
2005) We see this also in articles about joining library and computing centers under a single informationcentered administration.
(Bolin 2005) Repeated insistence that paper works will not go away have the tone of a defensive reaction against the incursions of the digital world. (Snowhill 2001) Concern about the new I-School model serving libraries may reﬂect the anxieties of those who feel their training is no longer as valued as it should be within the profession. (Dillon & Norris 2005) 5 Transformations
5.1 Overview The establishment of the MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) standard in the US, the availability of tapes with cataloging copy from the Library of Congress, and growth of OCLC cut the need for catalogers dramatically. The rise of purchasing programs and the growth in the importance of journal subscriptions cut out a substantial portion of the book-selection workload for subject specialists. The advent of small, specialized “boutique” digital libraries in this context mattered far less than the massive conversion of journal publication from paper to digital formats. The efforts of national level organizations like (in the US) the Center for Research Libraries to offer storage for a paper copy of journals shows one of the tendencies in research libraries to abandon paper and rely instead on digital formats.
5.2 First Transformation
The evidence we believe is generally the evidence that we see ourselves. I began working at the University of Chicago Library when I was 26 and was still writing my dissertation. At that time the cataloging department ﬁlled a space twice the size of the Senatssaal where we are now gathered, and most of the librarians sat almost cheek by jowl in small cubicles. The term “cataloging” in America includes both a formal description of a work and the assignment of subject headings, classiﬁcations and other intellectually signiﬁcant parts of the metadata-creating process. In German terms, these librarians did work that many German Fachreferenten do still.
I worked for the South Asia Library. Earlier it had seemed necessary to ﬁnd specialists who could create cataloging copy in the roughly 25 literary languages with publications in India and Pakistan, but ﬁnding people for all those languages was impossible. The South Asia Library took the only reasonable solution of relying largely on computer tapes that carried machine readable (MARC) cataloging copy from the Library of Congress, plus the help of people like me who could learn enough of the languages to match copy when necessary. By the time I left that library after nearly 5 years for a career in computing, the crowding in the cataloging room had eased visibly. This was the ﬁrst step toward transforming libraries into digital operations. A big piece of traditional work vanished. But another set of tasks appeared. The computing staff in the basement had visibly grown in numbers almost as fast as the chairs in the cataloging area had emptied.
5.3 Second Transformation
Another piece of evidence came in the following decade. The most visible items of furniture on entering most research libraries were the row after solid row of cabinets for catalog cards.
They were generally handsome objects of polished wood with steel or bronze-colored handles and label holders. This furniture held the most important tool for both librarians and researchers, because only via the catalog cards could anyone ﬁnd particular items among the ﬁve million or so volumes in the stacks.
The timeframe in which Online Public Access Catalogs (OPACs) replaced this furniture with less lovely though highly utilitarian terminal clusters varied. At Northwestern University the process happened early. James Aagard began programming on the NOTIS online catalog in the early 1970s. By the late 1980s essentially all serious research libraries had OPACS and automated systems.
In Germany the elimination of card catalogs began later and proceeded slowly. A few libraries still have card catalogs for their older materials. The conversion from paper to digital record keeping is, however, now largely an accomplished fact and with it a major transformation has occurred. Today the only way for librarians and researchers to ﬁnd a particular work is to interact with a computer system. The old task of ﬁling cards into the catalog vanished totally. Whole departments of ﬁling specialists closed or redistributed their staff to new tasks, in so far as their training allowed.
5.4 Third Transformation