Friday, August 26, 2011

Notes from Leave

I'm still on leave, but I wanted to write up some of the ideas that have been knocking around my head recently:
  • Libraries traditionally operated according to certain physical constraints, in that they needed, along with book sellers and publishers, to categorize primarily printed materials. Electronic materials don't necessarily have to abide by the same constraints, in that you should be able to invest minimal organization into web-based materials yet successfully retrieve them with a keystroke. Unfortunately (?) we live in a polyglot world of information where web-based materials are still only one piece of the whole, and universal standards for them are lacking. I hope it becomes more widely recognized that librarians have been doing what needs to be done for the web since before the web was around.

  • Part of the mission of community colleges is to provide access to higher education. I've started to worry whether we are doing a disservice to community college students, and to anyone unfamiliar with higher education, by removing physical experiences. For example, a traditional classroom means more than showing up and listening to a lecture. Among other things, it is also learning about how to behave in a meaningful, considerate, mature way in a group. These things are different in an online environment. When students enter the workplace, it will certainly be beneficial if they understand how to behave online. Yet they also need to be able to respect each other and work as a team. Another example is with e-books. The assumption is that community college students are computer-savvy, but the reality is that they may be barely computer literate outside of facebook and their cell phone's texting plan. It's not only the library that requires students to use a computer to complete tasks, but demand for e-books is often a result of using printed books. The advantages (and existence) of e-books may not be clear to a community college's incoming freshmen. 

  • I'm very interested in the cultural meaning of books, and the abstract attachment people have to what books represent. In Western history, books are a consequence of improvements in literacy and technology. Books are proof of our culture's intellectual activity, but they are not the only possible form that intellectual activity can take. This last is why I sometimes find my own and other people's attachment to books a bit irrational in the face of serviceable technology-based alternatives. I really like books, but it's safe to say that their scope is limited compared to what they were originally designed to do. Yet their elevated societal status continues.