Class discussion ideas: Information Ecologies
(Since I'm leading class discussion this week, it's my job to post some reactions to the reading here on the class weblog at least 24 hours before our class meeting. The rest of you should be posting your own brief reactions, questions, critiques, and/or comments on the reading to your own critical response weblogs. If you like, you may also post a reaction to what I lay out here by clicking on the "comments" link below.)
Although Nardi and O'Day's book _Information Ecologies_ only had one chapter specfically about "librarians" (and a very particular subset of librarianship at that, corporate reference librarians) it seems to me that many of the social processes at work in the other chapters -- effectively using information systems in the workplace, training children on information tools and literacy, and representing identities and places online -- are wrapped up in librarianship as well. Are there lessons we might learn from the other "information ecologies" presented in the book?
Nardi and O'Day spend a good amount of time explaining why metaphors are useful tools for thought, and why they constructed their "information ecology" metaphor. But metaphors are both useful and deceptive. They call to mind certain factors, associations, and "affordances" (to use a Nardi and O'Day term) but they mask and minimize others. What other metaphors besides an "information ecology" might we use for a library (or for various types of libraries, such as public, academic/research, school, and archive)? In what ways are libraries themselves used as metaphors for wider social phenomena (like the idea that the World Wide Web is a "global library")?
Nardi and O'Day talk about the "heart" by making explicit reference to the need for shared "values" in a healthy information ecology. But they only show one case of a "dysfunctional" information ecology where those values are disputed and contested. In fact, in general, notions of power and conflict seem to be absent from their analysis. Are values so easily discovered and agreed upon? Are information ecologies only "healthy" if they exhibit single-minded agreement on mission, purpose, and ideals of what is good? What "core values" do (or should) libraries and librarians share, and what values may be argued about or fought over without tearing apart the information ecology of the library?
Comments on any of these ideas are welcome (just click on the link below). Otherwise, hope we can talk about them tomorrow in class.