Information Science and the Business Analyst

Last year I returned to University to study Information Science.  Unlike fellow student who were either starting out in their career or using the course to change career, sometimes dramatically, I was and still am a Business Analyst.

So, why do it?  Why take a year out and invest time and money in a higher university degree in the middle of my BA career? And why go to Library School when there are plenty of other option in Systems Engineering or Business Schools?

Continue reading Information Science and the Business Analyst

Event Report on Lean HE Hub Seminar: Overcoming Barriers to Change

8 March 2016, University of Manchester

Lean is is a philosophy for improving workplace activity. Lean is based on two concepts (respect for people and continuous improvement) and five principles:

  1. Identify Value
  2. Map the Value Stream
  3. Create Flow
  4. Establish Pull
  5. Seek Perfection

Lean is about…

  • Adding value and removing unnecessary burdens.
  • Empowering people to improve the ways they work.
  • Always remembering who the beneficiary is of the work.

The Lean HE Hub is a networking organisation for Lean practitioners in HE to share experiences and good practice. They have a LinkedIn group, website run regular seminars and conferences hosted by different institutions.

I attended this seminar as we’re currently thinking about how we can develop our Lean capability within the Business Engagement and Transformation team at UoR and how we can use Lean principles and techniques when facilitating business change whether radical (Kaikaku) or continual (Kaizen). As I’ve little prior experience with Lean it provided an opportunity to:

  • Learn more about Lean in general
  • Find out how other universities are using Lean and share in their know how
  • Think about how Lean can support the Student Experience
  • Meet other process improvement and change management folk in the sector

This event was kindly and ably hosted by the University of Manchester. some of their business change drivers included: the student experience, IT transformation, faculty and school restructuring and accommodation moves. Practically everyone in the room shared at least one of those.

The event was divided into three main activities:

  1. An interactive exercise brainstorming the barriers to change in HE
  2. An interactive e exercise discussing how to make Lean terms more meaningful in HE
  3. A talk by Dr Tim Westlake, Director for the Student Experience at Manchester on their Student Lifecycle change programme and how Lean might help with that challenge

These activities not only prompted interesting and wide ranging discussion, but also allowed us to “eat our own dog food” and try out some of the techniques in practice as workshop participants.

Barriers to Change in HE

Evernote Snapshot 20160308 134416

The first activity used Affinity Diagramming to find themes and patterns on what obstacles we face when implementing change in HE. Starting with silent brainstorming, a good technique to avoid groupthink or dominant voices, we noted our individual thoughts on post-its. We then shared shared our thoughts within the group placing our post-its in a piece of flip chart paper as we did so. Finally we began to look for patterns and relationships between the barriers we’d contributed and grouped them. Finally, we labelled the groups we’d identified to categories. During plenary feedback a spokesman from each group outlined the categories we’d identified whilst a facilitator drew these onto a consolidated affinity diagram depicting the key themes and connections we’d identified.

Evernote Camera Roll 20160309 093723 (1)

Some of the key themes that emerged were:

  • people and culture (fear; attitudes; politics; time; resources; skills; basically a big shout out to the Wall of Excuses)
  • governance and leadership
  • clarity (getting the ‘big picture’; strategy; knowledge and know-how)
  • engagement
  • change methodology (either lack of or over-complicated)

The Language of Lean HE

Good communication is one wayof overcoming barriers to shared understanding. In the next activity we discussed some common Lean concepts and tool definitions and considered how to make them more relevant, comfortable and environmentally-friendly for HE.

Evernote Camera Roll 20160309 093723

Affinty Diagram – “a graphical representation of relted concepts or statements to find patterns

In our discussion of Affinity Diagram we had difficulty deciding whether we were defining the technique or the diagram themselves, both seem to get wrapped together in our definition. We also noted the relationship with other diagrams such as spider diagrams, relationships diagrams and most of all mind maps.

Muda – “what can be taken away whilst still delivering value”

The second term my group tackled was Muda. This is often translated as waste or something that is not value adding. We discussed the potentially negative connotations of the word waste (it is potentially demotivating to point out waste everywhere). In the feedback another group noted they negated this by defining it as an improvement opportunity. In looking up the dictionary definition we found it covered things like futility, uselessness, idleness and superfluity and we decided it was a bit more existential and holistic that simply ‘not needed’ or the more pragmatic process driven English translations and we admired the simplicity of a single word conveying such richness – a bit like taking a dip in a small but perfectly formed Murakami phrase. Whether this helps us use it or not in HE is a moot point!

An example from another table is Hansei which can be translated as reflection but is really a portal to a much deeper philosophy. Lean provides us with a rich language that helps us access Lean culture, not a simple set of terms. There was an interest across the groups in learning new terms but also sharing how other people interpret them and what that allows us to learn about different perspectives and accumulated ‘know-how’

Some of the key themes that emerged in the plenary feedback were:

  • The need to adapt terminology to specific contexts
  • The purpose of controlling vocabulary
  • Should we use ‘snappy jargon’ or richer descriptions?

We faced the challenge of taking some obscure terms, often in Japanese, and using them meaningfully in our work. Should we change the term itself or stick with the more ambiguous term but provide a clear definition and scope note? If we change the definition too much we lose the richness: sometimes our definitions took us away from the language of lean towards the language of something else e.g. process engineering. We also have to balance the need for practitioners to have a common vocabulary so we can share good practice (Geek Speak!) with the need for our stakeholders to converse in their language not our language.

Evernote Camera Roll 20160309 093721

As a recent #citylis graduate this was really territory for me, especially recognition of the need to elevate a glossary to a thesaurus in order to understand the relationships between these concepts.

Lean and the Student Experience

Dr Tim Westlake is responsible for University of Manchester students from first contact to 6 months after they graduate. This is c. 38, 000 students every year. He spoke to us about the work they have been doing at Manchester to improve the student experience and related it to Lean by showing examples of People, Purpose and Process. Tim also stressed that he would always put People and Purpose before Processes.

To start, when the new directorate for student experience was established in 2011 the priority was to build trust by demonstrating your own team can deliver first.

This was achieved through:

1. Clear Leadership and Governance
Provides clarity of purpose and accountability. This involves identifying the core things that will make a difference . This should be research-led and evidence-based i.e. not what you think will make a difference, or you hope will make a difference, or you really want to make a difference because it’s what you want to work on but guided by data. Alignment of governance bodies will provide clarity around accountability. Universities are large and complex with intricate committee structures but there should be no governance gaps and no governance overlaps. Be clear about who is accountable for what.

2. Clear Focus and Single Team Working
The other aspect of having a clear purpose is truly focusing on your core things by dedicating resources to them. Tim is an advocate for Single Team Working, arguing that people are capable of coming together and working on problems regardless of what they are ‘trained’ for.

“good people can deliver lots of different things”

As an example of the power of clear purpose and focused people, Tim told us a dedicated team consolidated Manchester’s five student portals into one in just a few weeks without requiring extra resource. Wow.

3. Continuous Improvement
Tim outlined the iterative development of Welcome Week from designating clear ownership, to establishing AskMe amabassadors and adding a greater variety of Welcome Week activities such as lectures (attended by over 600 students) by asking a simple question

“What differences will the next set of students see?”

4. Working with Students
Using co-design to not just consult students but actively engage them in what the Student Portal should look like. This development with students enabled allows the portal to reflect their language not the university’s functional architecture. For example, the term Your Future was chosen over Careers as it more closely reflects how students think.

“A new partnership with students is essential

People, Purpose then Processes

Tim stressed that this early work focused on Purpose and People (because people and purpose wins heart and minds not processes). The first thing he had to do was get the University to care about Students and win the argument that everyone has a role to play in the student experience. The next stage of development was bringing in the whole university by expanding single team working, sharing eight cross-cutting themes and ensuring every area of the university has Student Experience Action Plans.

Another key point is don’t use jargon. Universities are full of bright, dedicated people who are sceptical about management methodologies. Talk about improving the student experience. This advice provied directly relevant to the discussions we’d had during the Lean terminology activity.

Student Lifecycle Programme

Future work is now looking at the university’s business requirements for supporting the student journey. Having created clear Purpose and empowered People the student experience work is directing its attention towards Processes

“It’s never as simple as you think”

The programme is looking to standardise processes and provide a more consistent quality of service, without uniformity: all those students mean there are c. 38,000 individual strategies to support but they should all receive a consistently excellent and rewarding quality of service. Success requires individual student strategies built on standard, shared and co-designed services.

Other drivers include reducing the maintenance overhead of all the customisation in the Student Record System and deficit reduction. The initial project in the problem is mapping and reviewing current processes to scope the work and prepare the business case for the full programme. This also includes defining objectives and design principles up front. The programme will again emphasise single team working over organisational structure with various Manchester staff seconded to the project to work with consultants.

Tim was quick to point out that supporting services can only dissatisfy or prepare to satisfy students. It is Academics that can satisfy them and it is usually their Academic experience that mostly influences their NSS scores.

All enabling service providers can aim for is to Not Dissatisfy.

Lean Learning: My Reflections on the Day

Lean is not a ‘thing’, it’s a Shared Journey.
These journeys happen at many levels: team, unit, institution and it was great to join the sector journey and meet fellow travellers.

Striving for perfection … doesn’t mean we are rubbish now.
We can be confident and assertive about what we do well and our commitment to always ask “what will be different next time?”

Shared Purpose is important
Focus, Clarity, Single Minded and Single Team Working are factors that can help overcome the barriers to change

Shared Language and Culture is important
But, it has to be rich and meaningful in context. Practitioners enable shared best practice by using agreed terms but when working with stakeholders need to talk their language.

Links

Resource Guide for Early Career Business Analysts

Information Resources for Business Analysts:

A Subject Guide for New or Aspiring Professionals

This is a guide to business analysis information resources I wrote for an assignment on the Information Domains module of my MSc in Information Science at City University, London in April 2015.  It is a collection of 100 annotated resources that I’ve found useful in my career and may be of interest to new business analysts or those hoping to pursue a career in business analysis.

Download the resource guide as a PDF document.

License

Creative Commons License
Information Resources for Business Analysts: A Subject Guide for New or Aspiring Professionals by Alison Pope is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Community, Advocacy and Freedom: CILIP 2015 Conference Report

2015-07-02 13.48.07
Spotted in the floor tiles in St George’s Hall

Last week I attend the CILIP 2015 Conference in St George’s Hall, Liverpool (2-3 July). This was a magnificent venue where references to justice and knowledge were literally built into the walls and the floor.

This was my first CILIP conference and I was keen to take advantage of discounted registration for students to hear about the profession from a range of current practitioners to complement by Masters study at #citylis (City University, London).

The conference programme featured a number of keynote presentations from a variety of speakers, many of whom were not library or information professionals but added their perspectives to ours. This was complemented by breakout sessions that covered:

  • Information management: building success
  • Information literacy and digital inclusion
  • Demonstrating value: what’s your impact?
  • Digital futures and technology

along with a track of Fringe events that included Q&A sessions with keynote speakers and an opportunity join in hack sessions with exhibitors like the Ideas Box.

It’s not nice to be a librarian … it’s AWESOME to be a librarian … we do important things … throughout history we have done powerful things for human kind … librarians have that power – R. David Lankes

Screenshot 2015-07-06 18.29.36
Librarians: changing the world since 2000BC

The conference received a rousing start from R. David Lankes on the position and potential of librarians and was concluded by a presidential address from Jan Parry on the importance of critically reviewing ourselves and our services, before other people do, if we are to make a good impression. These talks extolled the power and professionalism of librarianship, neatly bookending proceedings, and instilled a feeling of optimism.

In between I attended every keynote and spent most of my breakout sessions in the Digital Futures and Technology track. These sessions were held in the unusual setting of the Civil Court, a 19th century courtroom with wooden benches and ink wells and talks delivered from the witness stand. Many people will have sat in this courtroom listening and arguing and now it heard today’s advocates on the subject of “wicked problems”, research data management, user experience, access management and linked open bibliographic data.

My only detour from this track was towards the end of the conference I couldn’t resist the Delivering Value session featuring the British Library and Wigan Library Service as I thought this juxtaposition would offer a truly macroscopic view of librarianship in in the UK. I was rewarded with a frankly inspiring hour that soared from the British Library’s Living Knowledge project envisioning how to stay at the forefront of All the World’s Knowledge and embed it across the UK to how a local library service has placed itself at the centre of Wigan’s community and the promises that make up The Deal, the council’s pact with the people who elect it.

I took notes on each session I attended and links to these are available in the session notes section below. Rather than describe each session again in detail I want to draw together my thoughts and reflect on three themes that I kept hearing again and again across the conference: community, advocacy and freedom.

Community

People were the pulsing, beating heart of a conference that celebrated both the community of librarians represented and the communities they serve. Again started by Lankes he urged us to speak more about librarians when defining libraries:

A mandated and mediated space (virtual and/or physical) owned by the community, stewarded by librarians, and dedicated to knowledge creation.

Time and time again speakers provided examples of how these spaces help create and connect vibrant communities (as in the above examples of the much admired Liverpool Central Library). Libraries may be changing but they aren’t dead and never will be as long as there are people in the world who want to learn and to be informed.

This becomes even more urgently evident during times of crisis as in Ferguson and Baltimore when libraries provided citizens with safe spaces. Another example was provided by Barbara Schack of Bibliotheques Sans Frontieres / Libraries Without Borders who talked about the Ideas Box. This is a media centre than can be transported anywhere in the world within an hour. It contains technology, content and materials that trained facilitators can use in crisis struck communities to enable people to come together, opening the boxes and creating a space where they can be human again escaping the crisis that surrounds them and contributing their information, knowledge and creativity to healing their society and their culture.

Erwin James also spoke about how books changed the way he thought about life. Prison enabled his immediate physical needs to be met fully for the first time in his life but again it was reading that enabled him to become human: to find a way to participate in society through culture. He spoke of how a single story brought wonder into his world and gave him the ambition to find “a good way to live”. He began to read, then write, then learn. Prison was for him a community resource that brought him peace, optimism and hope.

Libraries are refuges but they don’t just make communities when times are tough they co-create communities every day in small ways for all citizens. They use knowledge exchange and creation as social acts of conversation. As Lankes says “we bridge ideas into our environments”. We help people learn whether that is for their hobby, for work, for pure joy and wonder, of democracy. Librarians are people who collect resources and provide guidance that help people to learn and these resources increasingly cover digital and material technologies, such as those used in maker spaces, as well as books.

Libraries embody their communities: the people who provide and the people use them. Libraries are inherently political: they are by and of the people. Our job is to make them for everyone and defend them in a tough world.

This is not easy. Librarians, like others, are faced by “wicked problems”. Andrew Cox described these are complex, unfamiliar, stressful situations where the way forward isn’t clear. The problem is linked to other problems, there are numerous intervention points and numerous constrains and it is not clear that the situation is “solvable” by any one group. Cox used the example of Research Data Management (RDM) as an area lacking in information, agreement and relying on too many assumptions. Navigating these complex issues requires flexibility, enterprise, collaboration and courage and we must move forward with positive deviance, constructive dissent, empathy and collective intelligence. Most of all be a community of fate who stand together, but not a fatalist community: crisis narrative does us no favours.

Advocacy

We do not live in a neutral world and so we have advocacy: the practice of influencing decisions and changing society. Doubt is an interesting episode of The Good Wife about advocacy and using evidence not just establish the truth of things but to make that truth sing louder than any alternative.

“The problem is it’s not a good story, it’s just a freak accident, there are no villains.”

“But if it’s true?”

“But it doesn’t sound true. The prosecution’s story sounds like the truth.”

Doubt depicts informed democracy in action as a jury deliberates a seemingly open and shut case. As the episode unfolds small sections of the case are revealed in flashback fragmenting the picture and revealing competing versions of the truth. It also argues presenting the most factual version of events is not enough especially as the truth doesn’t always sound true in the face of competing narratives that offer better stories. At the end of the story the jury don’t have reasonable doubt, they have “reasonable ignorance”.

CILIP 2015 was also a story about advocacy. Many times throughout the conference, sessions urged us not to leave the senior managers and politicians who make decisions about library services in “reasonable ignorance” about the work librarians do and the value this brings to the communities they serve. Cory Doctorow told us obscurity can be dangerous and damaging.

In competitive and constrained times we cannot assume that the value of the services we deliver and love is self-evident to those who make decisions that govern the existence of those services.

Hence, the video Wigan Library Services created that summarised their contribution to their communities and council goals just over 5 minutes. The music and imagery helps transform statistics into a more powerful and eye catching narrative. It was placed in front of their chief executive and has now been seen by the entire senior management team.

We also cannot assume that times will get easier: we will always be in competition with something and there will always be challenges to face. There was some disagreement, however, on what we are competing with. Ken Chad identified choice as a key competitive forces with Google, Amazon and electronic subscription libraries like Epic! (for children) and Safari (for professionals) providing alternative library services target at specific groups.

R. David Lankes held a different view arguing that Amazon, Apple and Google are not in the advertising and consumer goods business, not the information business. His position is that libraries are in competition with the other services competing for the same public resources. Stuart Hamilton offered some suggestions on where this competition may come from. IFLA have been a partner in the development of a new set of UN Sustainable Development Goals and there will shortly be a UK Sustainable Development Plan. Demonstrating how you help the UK meet these goals will increasingly justify the funding and relevance of libraries in the post-2015 information environment. For non-public libraries your organisation’s strategy provides a similar guide to relevance.

All arguments are not created equal and we heard from Full Fact about their work as independent fact checkers sifting out information you can rely on from the misinformation. They check claims made in political arguments so we are not forced to choose between “blind faith and blind cynicism” in public discourse. Their experience showed that expertise matters and it’s possible to make fact checking systematic and impartial. Again their message was that doing their work, even communicating their work was not enough. Their third team is their monitoring team. Communication enables expertise to be vocal but monitoring of trends and issues enables it to have relevance. As information expands, attention decreases.

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Quotations on the wall in Liverpool Central Library

Whilst we must tell our story it must appropriate the language and aspirations of those we are addressing in order to be heard. For libraries to survive amidst this cacophony of competing commercial and public forces our stories don’t just have to be good, they also have to be targeted and relevant. For all the new technologies and trends we need to matter, communication and making a persuasive case are still crucial core skills.

The sum of these arguments is to suggest that librarians need to turn up, be present, go to meetings, and should be more assertive in owning the narrative around what they do and more ready to engage in the selling of that narrative to others.

We have to fill the narrative vacuum around the profession with the vibrancy, vitality and variety of ways communities use libraries. This will enable us to dismiss lazy assumptions, demonstrate value and go beyond measuring access to information towards explaining the impact that access, and its removal, has on our communities in order to ensure the “integrity, preservation and provision” of information as demanded in the Lyon Declaration.

Freedom

If some narratives can be reconciled, then others must be resisted and the erosion of civil liberties is one of them. The conference underlined our profession’s commitment to:

  • learning
  • openness
  • intellectual freedom and safety

but also noted that sometimes these clash and striking the right balance is difficult. In particular tension is encouraging access and openness whilst ensuring privacy and respecting creativity.

hract
Liberty is campaigning to save the Human Rights Act

Cory Doctorow talked about the unintended consequences of Digital Rights Management (DRM). As a security process this has done nothing to prevent piracy but prevents us exposing and fixing vulnerabilities in software. It has crippled creativity and criminalised scrutiny and eroded the negotiating power of artists without doing anything to protect digital rights.

Shami Chakrabarti moved the discussion to the broader context of universal human rights and how the political and ethical debate is lagging behind advances in technology. Even as we want to be free it is important to that freedom not to totally abandon privacy. At the very least there should be public debate on the ethics of surveilling entire populations because of the dangerous acts of a few.

Open data promises to provide people with greater freedom of information, but it also threatens ever-deepening surveillance. The amount of data held in our smartphones is significant, even scary. These devices empower and enable daily but they also have the potential to be compromised and used as “digital pathogens” against us. Using this data ethically and appropriately and participating in debates about who should be able to scrutinise these data and devices relies on literacy. Expanding our literacy to encompass big data is a challenge for librarians not just citizens and Virginia Power talked about the increasing demand for digital preservation, information governance and statistical and analytical skills along with some handy resources to provide support if “this data world is scaring you witless”.

In many respects the arguments about freedom were not about being able to do or say anything but being able to fairly and openly scrutinise the systems in which we exist and that govern us: whether these be political systems or software. Freedom will never be absolute but will be constrained and qualified but our freedom is certainly curtailed when we are not able to subject the actions of others to scrutiny or we are excluded from debates.

A functioning democracy needs to be an informed democracy: we need open, reliable and relevant evidence, persuasive advocates and literacy if we are to sustain our ability and our right to make sense of our society, invent and innovate, change the world, be human and be free.

This means, more than ever, we need librarians.

Session Notes

Pause for Breath

It has been a while since I blogged.  The great folks at #citylis have been keeping us busy recently.  Four assignments and a dissertation proposal were the end products for Term 2.  I’ve compiled a resource guide for early career Business Analysts that I’m hoping to bring to the web over the summer; written about the CIDOC CRM, a conceptual reference model for cultural heritage information; completed an information retrieval evaluation of popular online, web and social search engines (plus a bonus comparison evaluation of new human powered search engine WonderLib); created my first ever data visualisation on Women in Parliament since 1918 (a hot topic when female representation reach a new high point of 30% in the recent election); and submitted the proposal for my dissertation research on information behaviour in athletes.

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As usual I was calmly watched over through the many hours sat at my desk whether in focus or frustration by my trusty study buddy Soros the wise, inscrutable philosopher cat.  It didn’t make it any easy to do the work knowing he was dying.  A few weeks ago we took him to the vet and he was diagnosed with a large, tumour in his intestines leaking lymphatic fluid into his lungs.  It was highly unlikely he would survive any attempt to remove it and it soon became apparent after a couple of attempts at draining the fluid from his chest that it was leaking faster than we could treat it.  So we settled for a few more weeks of palliative care.  It’s never easy to make a life and death decision about another creature, especially when they are so stoic and refuse to give in easily to the fact they can no longer breathe.  He got to enjoy some last few days of spring sunshine in love and comfort and I got to enjoy his patient calm by my side until I met my deadlines.  Then he deteriorated quickly and we had to let him go before his suffering became too great.

Thanks to all those who provided support and kind words.  Fortunately the weather gods smiled so I was able to recover by sitting quietly out in the garden in the peaceful warmth of spring sunshine for most of the weekend feeling exhausted and sad but enjoying the clouds and the bright new leaves against a gloriously blue sky.

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Now, it’s time to contemplate and prepare for Term 3.  This means waiting for marks from the submitted assignments and hoping to pass the teaching component of the course and getting the dissertation proposal approved.  Then it will be working on the dissertation itself along with looking for a job or a project to move onto in October.  In the meantime there are some overflowing email inboxes to read, news feeds to catch up on, Evernote clippings to organise and file, list of blog ideas to get around to writing and a large pile of books to read on my desk that never seems to go down below a certain level.

My other two cats have been auditioning to fill the study buddy void in my life but so far they’ve been a little too needy, loud and in your face than the sanguine, quietly purring companion I’m used to.

2015-05-12 14.03.22

#citylis have also been busy building their presence on social media.  There is now a #citylis news blog to follow full of updates about the library and information science programmes at City.  There’s also a dedicated citylis Twitter account to follow in addition the familiar #citylis hashtag for tweets from faculty, current students, alumni and our guests and contributors.  If you are interested in studying library or information science you may also like to know the next City Postgraduate Open Evening is on Wednesday 10th June from 5.30pm and there is still time to apply for research studentships.  You can also read the thoughts of course director Lyn Robinson on recent debates in LIS curricula and keeping #citylis at the cutting edge of library and information science education. Finally, City will be hosting the latest in the Mashed Library series of unconferences.  #citymash will take place on Saturday 13th June (10:00 – 17:00) and is a “day of workshops and conversation for people interested in doing fun stuff involving libraries and technology.”  It is free but requires registration and anyone with an interest in libraries and tech is welcome to join in. It is a busy but stimulating time for all of us on planet #citylis!

Intermingling

Easter was a pleasant time filled with sunshine, the warmth of meals and conversation with family, and the vibrancy of nature unfurling back into life as blossom covers tree branches, shoots push through soil, birdsong fills the gleaming and frogsong fills the gloaming.

During the time I read two books, Intertwingled by Peter Morville and The Library Beyond the Book by Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles, and went on a visit, to Simply Permaculture in Saint Jean de Duras, all of which took me from libraries to the land and back again, whilst exploring similar themes:

  • exploring the connectedness of all things from information systems to natural ecosystems.
  • exhibiting the kind of quiet convinction and openness of thought needed to first see and then set aside limitations in order to reframe ideas, redesign systems and remix scenarios.
  • combining the anchoring role of centres with the the fertility of peripheries.
  • collapsing pasts, presents and futures to recognise they are chronological but not discrete.
  • critically dissecting our cartographic instincts: our need to make maps to understand the world around us whilst stressing the obvious trap that the map is not the territory.

Individually they were all enjoyable and thought provoking; taken together they seeped across each other into a powerful meditation on culture and change.

Intertwingled

 

Intertwingled / Peter Morville
9780692225585
LibraryThing | Goodreads

Firstly, I read Intertwingled by Peter Morville. Morville is an experienced information architect, one of the earliest, and author of classic texts such as Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and Ambient Findability. This is a deeply personal book, based on Morville’s reading and experience, that elevates information architecture away from the practical towards the reflective and thoughtful by way of this elliptical and eclectic meditation on the skeins of information that surround us.

It sketches information in broad strokes, taking in the natural world and the invisible constraints of culture in order to expose the categories and limitations that inhibit thinking and the connections and levers that change thinking. An attempt, perhaps, at a more holistic epistemology of information systems that inspires, but doesn’t always succeed (in places it is a bit too gnomic). The style was sometimes a bit too consulting speak and such short sentences suggested a better presentation as a speech than a book.At times I was confused and felt like I was chasing important points that were, however, too ephemeral to grasp.

Following Infoscent

Given how much of the book is informed by influential texts Morville has encountered it is also surprising their isn’t a bibliography to accompany the provided notes (which aren’t always well referenced. Morville also has a tendancy to drop references into the text that aren’t well noted, for example infoscent, and assume a higher level of cogniscence with terms than I have. For a book about connectedness this displays a surprising lack of context and linking.

Everything is Connected

The foundational position is of connectedness, a deep intertwining of things that suggests a shift from systems to ecosystems thinking. The argument in Chapter 1 suggests that as this is the nature of things, including information, and therefore information systems design needs to encompass culture, governance and synthesasia as well as analysis and architecture if it is to achieve sustainable change. I’m convinced by this argument, though the examples and structural thread in this chapter are rather eclectic.

The second chapter is more coherently argued and discusses the consequences of catagorisation and the risks of confusing maps with territories. Through examples, how we architect understanding is unpicked and questioned. It is an important point that organising and structuring information is not a neutral act and as information professionals we have an ethical duty to reflect on our choices: what are we fixing and what are hiding by the labels we create. As expected from a great information architect, Morville is very good at exposing the structures of information architecture. These sections emerge as moments of clear insight from the surrounding fog of philosophical context and personal anecdote.

I was once again lost slightly in the third chapter on Connections, but the fourth chapter on Culture once again felt more solid, albeit contradictory. Having spent the chapter on categories warning us that “maps are traps” the Culture chapter urges us to make cultural maps to effect change.

There was much in here that resonated but overall it works best at creating a “structure of feeling”, an overall mindset about information, architecture and systems thinking. It is better than the sum of its sometimes vague parts and introduced me to a whole host of new thinkers, texts and ideas to explore by suggesting an interesting bibliographic path to wander by following up many of the quoted sources (that’s why I was so disappointed there wasn’t a full bibliography). For example Systemantics by John Gall, Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows and Bruce Sterling’s concept of spime (objects that are tracked through space and time), are all new to me and look interesting.

Simply Permaculture

Next I wandered an actual path that snaked through the permaculture garden of Sandra and Santi at Simply Permaculture in Saint Jean de Duras. Their property is an experiment in applying permaculture philosophy and design to their French smallholding and this was the opening weekend of their garden visits for 2015 and part of Spring in Duras. They open up their garden to visitors and providde guided tours to demonstrate their application of permaculture and help others learn.

Permaculture is a design process that using the patterns in systems found in nature to create more sustainable human systems: essentially design based on ecological principles. Permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s as “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man”. For more information on permaculture the Essence of Permaculture provides a concise summary of the principles and ethics.

As I walked, I found the garden to be an example of “applied intertwingling” taking the concepts and critical structures from Morville and applying them to the domain of cultivation. In many ways it helped me understand Morville’s themes better.

The Flower is not the Garden

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Once again the map is not the territory. The permaculture domains and design principles provide a design map but in no way reflected the 5 hectare permaculture garden taking shape with loving care in France. As we were guided we learned about water management with swales, hugel beds for growing vegetables, a sustainable system of aquaponics using fish to fertilise the plants and the plants to clean and filter the water and how to get chickens to make compost.

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The permaculture principles emphasise connectedness, diversity and using feedback to design more sustainable systems. Each territory is different, but permaculture principles and ethics provide a cultural map that can guide sustainable cultivation.

An Aside on Information Behaviour

The day itself also demonstrated many of the ways people exchange information resources to learn about new things. Sandra and Santi went on a formal permaculture design course but they also described themselves as “YouTube Farmers”: if they didn’t know how to do something they searched for it using the internet. They watch lots of documentaries and do a lot of research to expand their knowledge, as well as consulting with their neighbours: long-term experts on the local terroir. Now, they are sharing their knowledge by opening their garden to curious visitors who can get information from posts located at various points on a trail through the garden or join a guided tour for more in depth information sharing. The group I was in exchanged ideas, and physical resources, between themselves and our hosts during the tour and it was probably one of the most dynamic peer learning experiences I’ve experienced.

My parents were so enthused with what they had learnt they immediately went home and started a project to use their chickens to help turn their compost.

The Library Beyond the Book

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The Library Beyond the Book / Jeffrey T. Schnapps and Matthew Battles
9780674725034
LibraryThing | Goodreads

Thirdly, I read Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles write up their experiments on reframing the library. Stemming from a series of design studios at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design Bibliotheca: The Library Past/Present/Future leading to the Library Test Kitchen. This seemed to be another example of “applied intertwingling”, this time in the domain of cultural memory.

This book does a fantastic job of tearing up the old cultural map by exposing the assumptions we make when we catagorise something as ‘library’ or ‘book, opening up connections, excavating the whole cultural process of authorship, readership and exchange and testing the limits of what libraries and books can be. It’s playful, poetic and provocative.

They consciously assert their domain as the library beyond the book not after the book, collapsing the past, present and future into a jumble of structures and possibilities: seeking fixity not fluidity. Like Morville, they reject simple determinimism and binary opposites. This is not a debate between visionaries and nostalgics but a rejection of constraints that might limit new connections and possibilities. They write of:

the intermingling of the analog and the digital, books and e-books, paper and pixels.

The Codex is not the Book

Just as the map is not the territory, so the codex is not the book. Schnapp and Battle insist that our ideas of the book, and authorship, are not fixed in formats but are “a flock of objects” suspended in the networks of their own creation and circulation. Much as we may like to fix things, they rather uncomfortably remain unfixed and spill out from their containers.

I like the way they argue that books became digital, in the processes of composition and publication, even before the artefact became digital. They describe books as “a medium that requires connection” and “are coaxed to life by conversation”. They have always been “surrounded by a halo of what we now call metadata”. Gradually, the digital halo that first emanated from books in the 1970s, now erodes the reification of books as physical things connecting the residual art of oration with the emergent “peritextual nimbus” of the digital and beyond.

A similar point is made about libraries themselves as being more fluid containers of books, conversation, retreat and communion than we assume. The book stacks and classification codes that were designed to organise and store books in the 19th century have been fixed so firmly in our culture that it is only with difficulty that we can see beyond them. It’s a critical discourse that comes from a deep love of libraries and what they offer society:

Libraries as sites for access, congregation, contemplation, delight, discovery, dispute, escape, hiding, repose, research, secrecy, self-abnegation … a capacious cartography of qualities, which register their historical texture, weave in and out and among one another, just as much as do the forms of the book.

This provocative essay suggests that we are experiencing a transitional moment as the dominance of these structures is challenged, arrived at not because of one thing but because of many interlocking changes in practice and documentary form. Nor do they suggest that books and book-holding libraries will disappear, rather that they will intermingle with new and remediated practices and forms, emerging from the traces of what books and libraries used to be and what they can be.

Beyond the Book

This critical discussion provides the context for the design experiments (“forward-looking, historically informed, speculative sketches”) outlined in the rest of the book. Tucked into margins, through words and pictures the book explores services, artefacts and scenarios that play with different levers to reframe the library and draw new maps based on a library typology: Mausoleum, Cloister, Database, Warehouse, Material Epistemology, Mobile Vector, Civic Space and Instant Reading Room. Some are better then others, some are more playful, others more possible. The exciting thing is that the authors, and their students, have been willing to go beyond existing categories and limitations to see connections and suggest new ways of being for libraries that go beyond the prevailing culture. It’s also written beautifully, poetically.

Such ideas are refreshing and urgent if debates about library futures aren’t to become too fixated on preserving a cherished but inhibiting past or ossified in arcane format debates that impose rigid limits on new ways of thinking. Libraries are not just places that entomb memory, they are also places where the living gather to imagine, converse, meet practical needs and find treasure. Some things will settle, to seeming permanance, others will change more frequently; not everything should change but nothing is entirely fixed. The book is packed full of suggestions for reimagining not just library spaces, services and systems but our whole library culture of authorship, publishing, acquisition and reading. It is critical, but devoted. The containers may leak and evolve, but the communion of ideas and stories will undoubtedly endure.

MARC’d This Week

ICYMI: Things I’ve found worth mentioning, amplifying, reading and collecting from the last few days.

Last Tuesday I followed JISC Digital Festival 2015 remotely thanks to Twitter and the live streaming of keynotes and selected sessions.  It’s not a complete experience but a good way to at least partially enjoy a conference when you have a cold, a twisted ankle and a student budget.  I particularly enjoyed the keynote by Professor Carole Goble on e-Science and research publication (brief notes | slides | recording).

Having discovered the Encyclopaedia of Life last week, this week I was introduced to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which provides the literature component of the EOL, thanks to a talk in the Big Data and the Dark Arts session.

Interesting article ‘Bits and Pieces of Information: Bibliographic Modeling of Transmedia’ by Ana Vukadin in Cataloging & Classification Quarterly (DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01639374.2013.879976) looks at how FRBR or FRBRoo (an attempt to harmonise FRBR with CIDOC CRM) can be used to catalogue narratives that span multiple media platforms.

It is an approach to multi-part works that might also help cataloguing the multi-various Research Objects mentioned in Carole Goble’s keynote though, there is alread a ro ontology.

This week’s exciting conference was User Experience in Libraries (#UXLibs), a library-focused event on delivering great services to users. Whilst it was possible to follow remotely this was a conference intended for attending. The format of a keynote then practical team sessions followed by a Q&A wrap-up each day looked like a really interesting active conference format: rethinking the conference experience, not just the library.