Dateline 30th November, New Zealand National Digital Forum, Te Papa, Wellington.
Readers of this blog will know that it is occasional rather than regular; my approach being to write something when I think it needs saying, even if I am the only one listening. I’m here as speaker and listener at NDF2011 (celebrating its tenth birthday this year…happy birthday NDF). I could reflect on the high value of a forum that brings together practitioners from a range of different disciplines and institution types to share experiences, opportunities and aspirations, but my motive in putting fingers to keyboard in the middle of a break out session is rather different; something quite special.
I kicked it off the Forum with my impressions on the strengths of New Zealand’s achievements in the digital landscape to date and also some challenges that museums, libraries and archives are likely to face in the future as digital technologies become ubiquitous. I highlighted the need for there to be increasing focus on the consumer rather than the institution, remembering Steve Jobs’ mantra, ‘give the customer what they want before they know they want it’. I also suggested that future success will depend on strategic thinking as much as management and problem solving, and that in future services must focus much more on the consumer and the value that is delivered to them than on the internal processes and priorities of the institution.
At the end of day one we heard a series of presentations by organisations and individuals working together in Christchurch to document the realities of the two recent earthquakes, in images, the recollections of those affected and other documentary evidence. It was a rapid response from the National Library (photographic documentation and longitudinal oral history), the University of Canterbury (CEISMIC project), the Ministry of Culture and Heritage (Quake Stories), Christchurch City Libraries (building an earthquake archive) and Ross Becker Photography (undertaking the photographic element of the National Library project). The intention to capture a comprehensive record of the impact of the earthquakes. The results are already compelling with unique images from some of the most dangerous areas on Picasa (30m hits so far) and so on, growing numbers of personal stories from citizens and the gathering of documentary evidence such as the changes wrought recorded on Google Maps.
Having spent the last weekend in Christchurch, a city now broken by those two catastrophic earthquakes in less than a year. It is impossible to grasp quite how much the city has changed without walking the streets that are actually open. Outside of the decimated city centre, suburban streets show how random the effects can be. Some houses untouched, some completely destroyed. Spookiest of all was walking around the urban streets at night and seeing in many places hardly a light showing: houses and apartment apparently undamaged from the outside left empty as too costly or too broken and dangerous to be worthy of repair, but still awaiting tear down. And of course, everybody has their own story, of heroism, discomfort or of loss.
The significance of all of this for me is as follows. First of all we have a number of different and separate organisations working together with a common mission to take collective action, apparently without any kind of formal agreement, discussions over divisions of labour or any of the conventional trappings of partnership. Capturing and exploiting the content is far more important than institutional identity. The message loud and clear was we need to record now and we can sort out the details of sustainability, etc. later.
Second, they have received many comments indicating that the free availability of this stuff so quickly after the events is helping those affected to deal with the trauma. People have found real value in recording and sharing their experiences and the photographers have been thanked repeatedly for providing images of the serious damage to the city centre, so that citizens felt better prepared when they were able to visit to see for themselves. (The city centre re-opened for controlled visits last weekend, but with dire warnings of the risks involved.)
Of course, none of this work will have impact on the enormous task of recreating the city. Yet the collaboration has shown that customer need can be put before traditional institutional priorities and that it is possible for public organisations sometimes to give the customer what they want before they know they want it.
Christchurch has a long journey to full recovery; some say 25 years at least. The fact that the first painful steps on that journey have been supported by the knowledge created by institutions and individuals offers a powerful message of what effective management and disclosure of knowledge can do for people. Knowledge really is power.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Trouble is, the times were not very evenly distributed. This is a story about two libraries – let’s call them library A and library B – and their destinies in the face of financial melt down.
Library A is a community library purpose built in the Thirties to meet the needs of a village that has grown steadily over the years with an influx of commuters. It offers a full range of services to the community including PC and wifi access to online services, a good quality bookstock and advice from trained staff. It has always been a popular and well-used service. In the past year the library has been threatened with closure in consequence of the international financial crisis. The community expressed collective disapproval of the proposal through letters, meetings and petitions.
And so to Library B. It is a community library purpose built in the Thirties to meet the needs of a village that has grown steadily over the years with an influx of second homeowners and summer tourists. It offers a full range of services to the community including PC and wifi access to online services, a good quality bookstock and advice from trained staff. It has always been a popular and well-used service. In the past year the library has been threatened with closure in consequence of the international financial crisis. The community expressed collective disapproval of the proposal through letters, meetings and petitions.
Let us turn to the responses of the two municipal authorities responsible for Libraries A and B. Library A, said the local council, would only remain open if a responsible agency within the community was prepared to come forward with a sustainable proposition based on volunteering. If an acceptable proposal was not forthcoming, the expectation is that the library will close. (This is an ongoing story and the final result will not be known for some months, but within the community there is no evidence that any ‘responsible agency’ will be identified.)
The council responsible for Library B received a petition and thought carefully about how the feelings of the community might be addressed through a sustainable solution that met the need for budget cuts. They decided that they could trust their community to use the library in a responsible way so they did the following: i) put in self issue and return; ii) checked that online services would provide advice and guidance to meet the general needs of users coming into the library iii) took all the staff away, apart from two hours each weekday when a librarian would attend to answer questions and ensure all the kit was working and the stock ship shape; iv) installed CCTV; and v) put a key pad lock on the front door so that visitors could come and go swiping their social security card plus entering their pin number.
Library B is now open 18 hours a day, seven days a week. The community is encouraged to use the library for meetings on a first-come basis, free of charge and un-superintended. For those who cannot get in or prefer to sit outside, the wifi has been ramped up and is available to absolutely anyone without the need for password. For the comfort of outdoors users the council has installed all-weather tables and chairs.
These are two very different reactions to the same problem. Which do you prefer? Do you wonder how two communities could be treated so differently? The simple answer is, of course that they are in different countries. Library A is my local library in the Home Counties while Library B is in Denmark, where the expanding ‘open library’ movement means that, as a result of financial constraints, libraries are open longer than before (some 24/7). Sound too good to be true? Well it is true and highlights just how different political and professional responses can be in two neighbouring European countries. My comparisons between the two libraries are not the result of objective analysis and it is quite possible that those advocating the continued importance of public libraries have explored this Danish model and decided it would not work here; maybe as I type there are UK authorities implementing the idea.
I have to admit that I have not read or heard anything to suggest the latter, although I assume others have connections in Denmark and are aware of what they are doing. The contrast raises both practical and professional questions that have yet to be answered. Would such a strategy work in the UK? Would local authorities be prepared to listen to such an option (trusting people to behave in the building and using the open wifi)? Would the community benefits outweigh the risks? Is the apparent balance of strategy between strong advocacy and searching for imaginative and practical solutions the right one? And so on.
The complimentary words I heard from library users on my recent visit to Denmark suggest that even talking seriously about ‘open libraries’ could bring a ray of sunshine into a generally gloomy landscape.
Two things in the past 24 hours struck me as worth speaking up about. First of all, the Waste Land app launched yesterday by Faber. I’ve only tried it for a short time, but I’m itching to see more of the same. You can, of course, read the text of the poem; you can listen to a number of recordings of the poems – two versions by Eliot, Alec Guinness, Ted Hughes and so on. You can follow the equivalent of ‘the bouncing ball’ through the text as they read, and you can switch between readers without losing your place in the text. Clever stuff.
More than that, you can see the original draft with handwritten changes, worked on by Ezra Pound and in the typeset text each line is linked to detailed annotations a la Coles Notes style. Finally, and most dramatic of all, there is an HD movie of Fiona Shaw performing the complete poem. Watch it in portrait mode on the iPad and have the bouncing ball text visible. Watch landscape and you get movie full screen. Add to that a gallery of images associated with Eliot and the poem and you have a unique guide that could not have been created without a) the technology and b) the walled-garden environment (iTunes) in which such a product might be controlled. How will libraries and educational institutions deal with multimedia assets in the future I wonder?
Aside from the Shaw movie you probably can find all of the material on the web somewhere if you dig hard enough – British Library for the sound archive possibly, iTunesU for commentaries maybe – but the app demonstrates the systems adage that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. For anyone interested in Eliot it is a must buy (£7.99) and I hope that the barriers of IPR (Faber, of course, owns much of the copyright in this case) do not stop others producing similar products. The approach does what all good learning resources should do, inform, inspire, entertain and be simple to use and understand. I’m seeing the future here.
The second ‘revelation’ is something others may already be aware of, but I cannot resist commenting on it. This is the news that Wikipedia will be put forward to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This from an article posted by The Atlantic last week:
“Spurred on by a German chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, the encyclopedia launched a petition this week to have the website listed on the UN Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s world heritage lists. If accepted, Wikipedia would be afforded the international protection and preservation afforded to man made monuments and natural wonders. The first digital entity to vie for recognition as cultural treasure, Wikipedia argues that the site meets the first and foremost of UNESCO’s criteria: “to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius.”
Heaven knows where they would stick the metal plaque, but this, like the Waste Land app, indicates how quickly our expectations and perceptions of the digital landscape can be challenged and changed.
I don’t think it is just me; in fact I pretty sure it isn’t. I think I am reasonably IT literate having struggled to get to grips with Basic programming in the Eighties, the vagaries of Internet connections in the Nineties (anyone remember Winsock?) and all the amazing developments in the last ten years. I have an iPad, an iPhone, MacbookPro and an iMac. They all work together, synchronizing and operating in a sensible and consistent way that would be hard to imagine when the early PCs first arrived in the office with a box of floppy disks.
Buying ebooks and e-audio books is a dream, completed in a matter of seconds and Good old Amazon are happy to provide the shelves to keep them on should the iPad (or the Kindle which also inhabits the house) go over the something-or-other thousands items that they are able to hold. Smooth service, reliable and it genuinely could not be easier to use.
Compare that with this afternoon. I decided to try the new ebook/e-audio book service being offered by my local library service. After logging in to my personal account I am offered the option to go to the ebooks service. To be able to borrow and item I am then asked to provide my account code and pin number again, presumably to establish a connection with the commercial organisation providing the service. There is a button labeled ‘getting started’ and then a series of instructions to load digital rights management (DRM) software and a console tool that acts as the interface to the collection of ebooks and e-audio books.
A while is spent first downloading and installing the software and then creating an account in the DRM system and registering the particular device being used. Now to search for some interesting stuff. Grab a couple quick and check them out. They arrive on the machine but refuse to work.
Go back a couple of steps and look more closely at the bottom of the details for the items to see that they are not in a format that will work on the Mac. Moreover, further investigation reveals that of the 645 audio items listed in the catalogue only 44 are apparently in a format that will.
OK, this is an experiment checking out the system and it was my fault for not looking at the fine grain. Best to ‘return’ the items so that someone else is able to use them. Not possible apparently. They have to sit on the machine useless until the two week loan period is up and they self-destruct.
Plan B, try the iPhone app. Download it and register it and then find another book. Have to get this one right since three is the limit. Stymied again – the 44 Mac format items are only available to reserve or to add to this wishlist. None can be borrowed for reasons unstated.
Total time taken to do all this? About 90 minutes give or take.
I do not relate this tale to be critical of what is clearly an emerging service. I do not want to suggest that such services are best left to the commercial market alone. What I do want to suggest is that those adopting these services should do some proper usability testing and ensure that the entry route for the new user friendly and clear about what can or cannot be done and how the system will function in a wide variety of conditions and configurations.
What we have at present is a service that is contracted and that commercial service is providing all of the guidance. They really don’t want to make a big issue about constraints on compatibility. They are unlikely to address local issues to do with availability – it is possible that the Mac items were not ‘borrowable’ because those resources have not yet been enabled for my local library service. And they certainly won’t want to blow a loud trumpet about the fact that most of the audio material is not compatible with Macs.
Yet, for the ordinary user these are exactly the things they will need to know up front. It reminds me of the different between the Sony eBook readers of five years ago with DRM, incompatible software with Macs and clunky interfaces, and what we have now.
I have been following the debate on LISPUB-LIBS about whether or not to charge for the loan of ebooks. My view is, of course, that they should be free. However, all of those managers would do well to spend a bit of time actually trying the usability of the systems themselves, getting their sisters and their cousins and their aunts to see whether it makes sense to them. Do they understand what DRM software is and why they need to load it? How does that fit with the services own interface? Why do they look so different? And so on.
There may be a bold and exciting future out there, but someone needs to make sure the message on the tin explains what is inside – and how to open it!
Some people write books about crowdsourcing; some people even use it as a means of writing books on social networking and crowdsourcing. And, of course, we all talk about it. Indeed, I’ve just been to two conferences where it was either the main topic or at least high on the agenda.
At the ninth meeting of the Digital Cultural Content Forum (DCCF) in Berlin we spent a morning on crowdsourcing and at Beyond Collections in Oxford, led by the RunCoCo team, the whole day was dedicated to community engagement. Some two years ago Chris Batt Consulting did a study for the JISC. Digitization, Curation and Two-Way Engagement looked at the past relationship between higher education and communities, activity within other domains such as museums, libraries and archives and also the third sector. It concluded with suggestions on how future programmes of engagement might best develop new and lasting relationships between institutions, communities and individuals. The report pointed out that crowdsourcing/two-way engagement is not a single approach, but a big umbrella under which are clustered a number of different but similar activities.
At the DCCF meeting there was discussion concerning the extent to which curatorial staff could or should give up control of their own knowledge, enabling anyone to contribute on a reasonably level playing field. Will anti-social behaviour (anti-social networking) corrupt high quality cataloguing information or metadata, or might the benefits of opening up previously guarded information, in the way that has been done through public tagging in documentation systems of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, create new and lasting relationships and synergies between the institution and the public? This is a debate to be heard in many places and many institutional contexts.
Certainly, there are many good examples of where engagement by communities has made possible things that would have otherwise been unimaginable. We heard about a number of these at the Beyond Collections event, from the Zooniverse, where citizen scientists are providing the capacity to analyse large data sets; from the team that have crowdsourced the transcription of the Jeremy Bentham archive held by University College London; the building of new individual and community narratives around the history of the Strand in London (Strandlines) and the recent joint venture between the RunCoCo team, Europeana and the Deutsche Nationalbibliotek touring Germany to record thousands of new items from lofts and cupboards. Outside of these public sector examples there is the granddaddy of crowdsourcing, Wikipedia and thousands of clones, plus teams crowdsourcing the design of cars and other consumer products.
Apart from making the obvious point that there is as yet no clear and definite route through this dialectical dilemma, professional values alongside institutional tradition and the need to protect ownership rights are all genuine issues to be dealt with. At the same time, it is evident that new relationships with those outside the institution have enriched collections, done the impossible and provided new insights into the knowledge and interests of the public.
There is a need to get under the skin of these issues, but having examined some of the landscape in the Digitisation, Curation and Two-Way Engagement report, I don’t want or need to go too far here. What I do want refer to is something that struck me recently and may have already hit you. That is there are a whole bunch of very different things going on under the umbrella of crowdsourcing and, indeed, under the even bigger umbrella of Web 2.0/social networking. Using the terms as a ‘shorthand’, I think is becoming less and less useful to sensible debate. Rather, we need look more closely at the relevance of crowdsourcing to the particular circumstance.
In his book Crowdsourcing: how the power of the crowd is driving the future of business Jeff Howe brigades crowdsourcing activities under the four chapter headings:
- what the crowd knows,
- what the crowd creates,
- what the crowd thinks and,
- what the crowd funds.
And the regular reader of Wired Magazine will be aware that crowdsourced activity now embraces activities as diverse as designing cars and seeking a cure for diabetes.
I thought I would share my working typology of crowdsourcing behaviours within the domain of knowledge institutions. They may all share two-way engagement, but that is about all:
- Analysis and review of datasets. Galaxy Zoo and its offsprings such as Old Weather; the transcription of Jeremy Bentham’s archive; Public Catalogue Foundation Your Paintings project
- Contributing new knowledge and knowledge objects. Great War Archive; Their Past Your Future; various projects within Flickr Commons
- Expressing opinions and impressions. This category includes the ways in which those external to the organization are able to comment on services (open blogs) or knowledge assets are interpreted and presented (tagging).
- Interest self-management. This category and the next represent behaviours derived from the above activities. Interest self-management is the manifestation of group dynamics into communities of interest: members of the crowd converging around common interests stimulated by the crowdsourcing activity. The various interest groups in Galaxy Zoo and those focused on collections at the Powerhouse Museum are obvious examples.
- Policies and the crowd. This relates to the ways in which the behaviours of the crowd are interpreted and integrated into the policies and objectives of the institution and remains, at best, inchoate. It does seem to me that the up-swelling of information that comes from two-way engagement offers a rich seam for service development. It is, after all, the voice of the motivated. Where that collective voice conflicts with or diverges from the received opinion of institutional/professional values, it ought to be listened to rather than dismissed.
I don’t make any claims for this list. It is inelegant and lacks completeness. Nevertheless, if sustained and genuine engagement turns out to be the way of the future I do think greater sophistication in the working of crowdsourcing needs to be achieved soon rather than later.
Finally breaking radio silence after a six-month absence from Blogland. There are number of reasons, including a project with the JISC, conference planning, speaking and chairing, but mainly an extended period of reflection and review on the PhD work and refine the scope and methodological framework. It seems it is in the nature of doctoral research that doubt and soul-searching are constant companions, lurking in the shadows. Asking a PhD student how their research is going will invariably produce the following series of responses: i) the brow will furrow, ii) the eyes will focus over your shoulder into the middle distance and, iii) you will get either the equivocal response of “ok, I think” or the more confident, “don’t ask”.
Of course, the nature of trying to explore the world from a new viewpoint invites uncertainty while the route to PhD success derives from the triangulation (validation) of the research premise with reliable evidence. The creeping consequence is the steady narrowing down of scope and the simplification of process. The researcher starting out on a mission to change the world soon discovers that the best they can hope to achieve is to define in a very specific part of that world the particular problem that needs to be addressed. And demonstrate the actions that might lead to some beneficial change taking place.
In mid-2010, around the time of my last blog, my research programme bore the grand title of: Knowledge Strategy in the Networked Society – a Methodology for Long-Term Policy Planning, with a principle research question of – In the Networked Society in what ways might public policy for cultural, heritage and knowledge institutions develop strategically to maximize their collective value to all citizens? I aspired to create the means to enable citizens, professionals and policymakers to engage with long-term policy planning for future public knowledge systems. It seemed a fine idea, but supervisors are astute at spotting flaws in the logic and in the methodological approach. I am loth to revisit exactly how the conversation went, but I am sure I am a better person as a result. Certainly the research programme is much improved in focus and achievability.
The outcome is a new research definition and statement which can be found on my Digital Futures website. It is pretty obvious that the provision of knowledge systems in support of the public good depends significantly on the curation of knowledge containers (books, objects, archival records, etc). If there is one thing that links institutional and professionals as a defining role it is surely that. Whatever policies might require and whatever the professional priorities of the moment might be, without good knowledge collections aligned to short, medium and long term needs, public good will be illusory. Therefore, understanding the present commonalities of curation – policies, philosophy, current practice – would be an excellent foundation on which to assess the readiness and future potential for that process of knowledge curation to be adopted and embraced by digital technologies.
The revised research statement sports a new title: The Curation of Knowledge as a Public Good In The Networked Society, which probably still sounds a bit open ended, but there is a sub-title - how digital technologies will change the creation, management and exploitation of public collections - which I hope does make a lot clearer what the purpose of the research now is. The critical test of viability sits with the supervisors and thankfully the statement passed the test without challenge.
Currently I am immersed in the philosophies and practices of collecting (within museology, librarianship and archival records) and mapping out just how the evidence can be embedded within a common frame. Further, I will be looking at other factors such as the readiness to adopt and adapt, a willingness to take risks and the ‘health’ of current institutional infrastructures. Against this will be set an understanding of public policy, both in the broad sense of political priorities and the detailed ways in which policy addresses directly public knowledge collections. My intention is to find ways to combine all these factors to produce a public knowledge ecosystem model. The final stage of the research programme will be to build into the ecosystem model the key trends of social and technical change and to test the model as a tool for examining future options for the curation and value of public knowledge collections in the networked society.
WHERE IS THE WISDOM WE HAVE LOST IN KNOWLEDGE? WHERE IS THE KNOWLEDGE WE HAVE LOST IN INFORMATION? (and where is the information we have lost in data?)
The last part, of course, is me rather than TS Eliot! It seems unlikely that in the early ‘30s when Eliot wrote these lines in Choruses from the Rock he had much grasp of digital preservation or curation techniques. Yet almost eighty years later the lines continue to be cited as justification for a hierarchy of value and utility, a slope down from wisdom to knowledge to information and, with my addition, on down to the third-class steerage of data. LIS students seem particularly keen to cite it. I guess, feeling that an Eliot imprimatur might help a bump up to a higher grade. But does it actually make any sense to apply this kind of top down-ness to the reality of the things around us? If such a hierarchy can help us to comprehend the value flow that takes place between stimulus and understanding, examining the components of that flow and their relationships makes good sense. Nevertheless, I do wonder whether re-contextualising the quote from the mystical context that Eliot was invoking to the raw material of the knowledge sector is helpful to understanding the world around us.
Where is this heading you may well ask? To quote Eliot again, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language” (Four Quartets, Little Gidding); meaning that words can be a real headache. Some readers will already know my PhD topic is Knowledge Strategy in the Networked Society. Consequently, getting a firm grip on what knowledge might be is of no small importance. Is it really a commodity/concept that sits between information and wisdom? Earlier this year I spent a while trying to get into the world of epistemology, aka the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. Yep, I read a book! Do you recall the two representatives of the philosophers’ union in Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy who complained that, if Deep Thought should find the ultimate answer to the Question of the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything, it would put the philosophers out of work? Well, What is This Thing Called Knowledge (Duncan Pritchard, 2009) was a fascinating read – a new world for me – but by the end of my expedition I felt there was a definite plan to hold off revealing the answer until, at least, the next edition. I did learn that in epistemological terms, knowledge can be defined as ‘justified true belief’. However, there seem to remain some caveats around the precise definitions of ‘justified’, ‘true’ and ‘belief’. To be fair to the epistemologists’ union, I spent a long time in a career where pragmatism was the only safe way to survive and prosper, so deep thought is a late developing skill for me.
Back in my real world (note the touch of philosophy?) my sense of how words are used leans toward the gospel according to Humpty Dumpty:
“When I use a word” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”.
“The question is”, said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is”, said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all”.
Now, at this early stage of my research (20% in), I’ve still to decide whether Alice in Wonderland ought to be documented as one of my primary sources. Instinct suggests it may not be the strongest card in the bibliographic hand, but I am prepared to say that Dumpty, H. helped to clarify my views on how to deal with my hypothesis that there is value in considering knowledge not at the level of philosophical argument but as a commodity (see blog of 6th April). I interpret what the egghead said as, meaning derives from the worldview of the observer and reflects their particular needs and aspirations. To ground that interpretation in the title of this blog, the line that precedes the quote is: “Where is the Life we have lost in living?”. Do you agree that it puts a very different ‘spin’ on the lines that follow? So, the concept of relativity that is implied by said Dumpty, which I take to be contextual relevance, depends not so much on a universally agreed single definition, but a shared understanding of what the usage means within the particular context – the receiver has to understand the transmitter’s contextual meaning. Having worked through this I started to see it all around me. Two brief practical examples.
The Fourth Bloomsbury Conference on e-Publishing and e-Publications was organised jointly by the Department of Information Studies at University College London (who hosted it) and the Institute of Museum and Library Studies in Washington DC. The annual conference brings together an eclectic mix of scholarly publishers, academics, university librarians and other hangers-on like me. The conference was: “…centred on datasets and databases, on how scholars create and use them, on how librarians through repositories aim to organise, maintain and preserve the content, and how publishers are beginning to want to link their publications to these resources and also bring their own skills to bear on the processes involved.” (Conference flyer). You can find all of the presentations from the two-day conference here. Show stopper for me was, it appears now that data is the new knowledge. The conference may have been rooted in the curation of databases and datasets, but we heard from Scott Brandt and Charles Watkinson of Purdue University how datasets are increasingly worth publishing for their intrinsic value, just as other speakers reported there is a growing expectation that alongside any academic should ready access to the source datasets should be provided. The conference heard from Toby Green how at OECD, “data is not second class stuff”. In reports all source data are accessible for re-use and re-presentation. Have a dig around the OECD iLibrary to see what can be done.
Before you get too excited, everything is not sweetness and light. Carol Tenopir of Tennessee State University is conducting an extended longitudinal baseline assessment of scientists’ data sharing practices. While there is general support for the principle of wide data sharing, the reality is a landscape where much of the data is held only on PCs in the home and sharing is access to others’ data, but protect mine from misuse. There is work to be done changing work practices and mindsets to enable this potential knowledge to quickly and easily become explicit.
The second conference Research2: Forum on Research Methods was organised by PhD students at Loughborough University Department of Information Science to bring together LIS PhD researchers from around the country to discuss their approaches and experience of research methodologies. Fascinating two days that helped all present share enthusiasms and experiences, both uplifting and challenging. I was again struck how, even within the LIS discipline, the concept of contextual relativity was alive and well. Certainly knowledge was used to describe concepts that ranged from the inter-galactic (see my definition below) and the sub-atomic (try, Using Autopoiesis to Redfine Data, Information and Knowledge).
Taking all of these experiences and my new-found confidence on board, a couple of weeks ago I presented my first annual PhD progress report and nailed my initial definition of what knowledge will be for my research:
Knowledge embraces the record of human thought, creativity and experience in all media, whether documentary or through objects and is an essential component of individual and social development.
And in recognition of the need to provide context to the definition I offered six statements of clarification. I’m not going to go down the route of disclosing all of that stuff at the moment since I have yet to get full feedback from my supervisors who might just blow it all out the water. I will mention here that, to make my knowledge definition (and my research) valid, a further definition is necessary. A commodity or value flow has to have some point at which an exchange takes place to generate the output value. In my evolving model of public knowledge systems, the exchange takes place at the boundary interface between public service and the individual. I adopt the word ‘learning’ for this and define learning as:
The apprehension of knowledge to advantage.
Meaning through the acquisition and understanding of some item of knowledge, benefit is delivered to the individual that enables them to know more about themselves and the world around them. Furthermore, that this personal learning experience changes the individual in ways that will contribute to the public good.