Saturday, July 9, 2011

Information Age and its ecology

When you consider the context of the modern information age the startling facet of this era is the rapidity within which information and news can be transacted. Ever changing landscapes and factors have always something societies have dealt with, yet it is the pace of the change which seems to be at warped speed. What does this mean for those who are trying manage libraries!!
Winzenried writes of the context as being 'a world that has taken change as a constant and embraced a series of technologies that are forever minimising the distances between people otherwise separated by thousands of kilometres and across all manner of cultural divides.' p 6 (Visionary leaders for information. Welcome to the global village.
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A MANAGER IN A MODERN LIBRARY TO 'ORGANISE' MATERIALS IN A WAY THAT IS SUITABLE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE CONSTANTLY OPERATING INDEPENDENTLY? This requires a complete rethink of librarians as managers - their scope and function. How do you organise the movable feast? And in a world in which resources are limited "each and every meeting, decision, agreement that is made demands a cost'. Do libraries have a future, if an individual can many of the functions that a library and librarian carries out (with a great deal of expense) independently and at a fraction of the cost!!????
What is the core business of libraries? Winzenried would argue that is "knowledge creation" but in the economic rationalist era where accountability reigns, you need to demonstrate this knowledge creation with actual KPIs or some other form of evidence. Just to say that a person is learning is not enough - nor should it be. But does a librarian apply a business model to their role as manager??? It seems somewhat counter to the core business of what a library and other educational institutions do - As Winzenried points out "Education in all its aspects has the intangible product of changing minds of humans- of making a difference, of growing knowledge' And while that might leave you with a nice warm fuzzy feeling, knowing that you are pursuing a noble profession - it does not ensure that the budgets aren't going to be cut - that you might be seen as an unaffordable luxury in an age of limited resources and infinite access to information - cut out the middle man and let the individual create their own knowledge.
Moral purpose - you can have the moral high ground to underpin your argument but there needs to be more than this to support the argument. Any business does need to clearly understand and articulate what the core values they operate upon. For those managing information it is simple and clear - whilst information and knowledge creation might be intangible - it is an essential daily activity.
The current context of the information age - described by some as digital anarchy (which seems to be somewhat melodramatic) is often seen as the solution to the problem of what to do with libraries and librarians - the information age with all its technological wizardry will be able to provide all the information for knowledge creation - making libraries and librarians obsolete - which is convenient because they are resource intensive.
"Information provision needs to be firmly based around a defined purpose and it needs to consider the individual in a special way." p 8
George W. Bush would agree that you might have the moral imperative but you need a road map - so whilst the information might be out there for all to use - a CLEAR PLAN in the manner in which it is to be used is ESSENTIAL. And with this clear plan it needs to be RESPONSIVE to the needs of the clients - so in a high school, the changing needs of the students whether it be the introduction of the national curriculum or the latest new social networking craze or web 2.0 tool to help them engage, share, create and understand - and this is predicated on RELATIONSHIPS. "If information management is to be truly client responsive then there needs to be a close relationship between manager and client.' Which is supported by much of the pedagogical writings of the past ten years which stress that at the core of all good teaching and learning is the relationship. Relational aspects of knowledge creation is highly valued by the current generation and should be valued by the managers of information provision now.
And the last part of the equation is PRODUCT FOCUS - ensuring that your customers are happy and satisfied with the service they are getting "making that data so useful to the client that they can use the material in a way that makes a difference to their lives' page 9
  1. moral purpose
  2. clear plan
  3. responsive to client needs
  4. built on relationships
  5. clear focus on product delivery

So ultimately "there does need to be a personal dimension and the library remains the most well-positioned vehicle for this." page 10

What this means for the high school setting is that the TL needs to firmly establish relationships with all students, and not just the frequent fliers who come into the library on a daily basis. The playground refugees are grateful for a place to be themselves, but the TL needs to be actively seeking to have all teachers and students accessing the library both during school hours and at the point of need - at home (more than likely at ten o'clock the night before the assignment's due). The five cornerstones that Winzenried points out are the conditions in which the ecology of the information age can thrive so that librarians get to manage the information delivered to their clients and knowledge creation continues unabated. The best win:win possible.

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