I recently read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s excellent book Antifragile: how to live in a world we don’t understand. It’s a rather sprawling, heavily footnoted opus – but with time to reflect I think Taleb has a great deal to teach librarians.
Given the word count Taleb assigns to railing against bureaucrats, corporations, universities and government institutions, he may be less than impressed by my application of his ideas to academic, corporate and public libraries. He does make an exception for municipal government, however, so perhaps he would let public librarians like myself off the hook.
Taleb is a big fan of the private library, one that allows its owner to read wherever her interests take her. A wonderful idea, of course, but one that many humans, due to a lack of means, simply cannot realise. The public (or, in some cases, academic) library can make up for this if it is managed well. Continue reading
Last week I was part of a panel session organised by the ALIA New Graduates group. Katherine Gallen, Kim Tairi and I talked to a group of new and soon-to-be graduates about resumes and applying for jobs with selection criteria.
On July 10th ALIA released The Library and Information Agenda, intended as a lobbying document for political parties and candidates running in the Federal election (announced yesterday as happening on 7 September). This document outlines ALIA’s vision for libraries and information in Australia over the next three years and asks candidates and parties nine questions. Or rather, in the fashion of these types of documents, it asks them to pledge support for ten goals, couched as nine questions.
I think ALIA has captured the aspirations of Australia’s librarians fairly well, as much as one can in such a disparate profession. This document does, however, raise some questions about ALIA and what exactly The Library and Information Agenda is trying to achieve. Continue reading
I’m going to start with a story about growing up in Tasmania in the 1990s.
The economy wasn’t great, with unemployment at around 11%, no economic growth to speak of and a high State debt. In these formative years, I was surrounded by both the defeatists and the hopelessly optimistic. Many said that the Tasmanian economy had no hope and had been on the downward slide since the end of Transportation. Others dreamed of the One Big Project that was going to save us all: the Mt Wellington cable car, the Oceanport cruiseship terminal, the enormous pulp and paper mill, the largest catamaran factory in the world.
The Oceanport company turned out to have $1 to its name, the catamaran company went bankrupt, the pulp mill dream ultimately saw a prominent businessman gaoled for bribery, a Premier resign in disgrace and the state’s largest company fall into receivership. The cable car dream quietly slinked away, only to return recently as the economy again started to go sour.
But in the intervening decade, Tasmania’s economy flourished. There was no One Big Project that achieved this. There were however lots of small projects. There was the ongoing success of the King Island Dairy. There were dozens and dozens of independent bed and breakfasts serving a growing tourist trade. There was the ever expanding Taste of Tasmania and Ten Days on the Island festivals. There were interstate expansions of home-grown beer and seafood brands Boags and Tassal. There was no one big project, just one big vision – a vision based on contested but broadly shared values of wholesome clean produce, pride in work and lack of pretention. Tasmanians still complain about their economy, but the improvement is obvious to someone like me who left 12 years ago.
Tasmania’s problem wasn’t a lack of big projects, funding or infrastructure.
It was a failure of self-belief. Continue reading
On Sunday Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a new ‘Reading Blitz’ program for primary school students.
As I read the Prime Minister’s media release (thanks @latikambourke) I was struck by the difference between the Prime Minister’s rhetoric and the ABC radio interview of Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings just three days earlier. In response to a question about why Tasmania’s literacy and numeracy results are so poor compared to the rest of Australia and the OECD, Giddings stated that
It’s true to say we have a lower socio-economic community here in Tasmania and some cultural problems with the value of education. That’s why we’re concentrating on the early years, that’s why we’re investing in getting mothers – pregnant mothers – into the class and school environment again so it’s not so threatening.
Having grown up in Tasmania I understand what Giddings is getting at. I was lucky to be raised in a family where reading for pleasure and valuing education both went back multiple generations. This was not, however, universal. I went to school with plenty of children who were raised in families where neither education nor reading were particularly prized, encouraged or modelled. My final year of school included students who achieved a perfect score for English and those who were, quite literally, barely able to read. Given that we all went to the same school it seems clear that the problem was not simply a lack of effort or testing from our teachers. Continue reading
Regular readers of this blog will have noticed an absence of posts over the last few months. After a recent promotion I’ve simply been so busy with work that I have neglected you all.
I would like to continue a conversation from the comments in my post on platform neutrality, A failure of imagination, where I suggested that librarians have a responsibility to ensure our communities have access to information in a ‘container’ or format that is user-friendly and flexible. Kathryn Greenhill argued that librarians should avoid trying to duplicate content providers like Facebook and Wikipedia and instead focus on providing access and understanding of these tools. Kate Davis disagreed, writing that rather than librarians building our own software and online tools, we should partner with existing providers.
This exchange highlighted the complexity of these issues for libraries and librarians, and the difficulties the profession is experiencing in defining what we do and why we do it. Are we collectors, curators, or creators? How much of our role is about education, and should we hold particular ethical positions regarding what we provide or teach?
As increasingly shallow as the concept of ‘innovation’ seems to be, what is needed for librarianship to remain useful and relevant is a spurt of real innovation. Continue reading
Did you hear? Game of Thrones is now the “most illegally copied” television show of the season, and Australians top the list of pirates. The reasons are simple enough – lag times of 2 weeks between episodes being aired in the US and Australia, the inability to purchase individual episodes on iTunes until a year after Season 1 had aired in the States, and the requirements to sign a long term contract for a cable TV package including a bunch of other channels and shows you don’t want. In other words, it’s perfectly easy to watch it legally as long as you are willing to wait, watch it at an inconvenient time, and be gouged for the privilege. Continue reading