Thursday, 12 July 2007

Battle lines 2

In my previous posting on this I drew attention to the debate that has been going on between the Webbed and the Web-sceptics(to use Sheila Webber's terms) . I based this on articles published in CILIP journals because I wanted to provide a link between print-based forums and on-line forums and (as a blog with a regional focus) I wanted to keep things as local as possible. My hope is that this will help to make my comments relevant to the majority of library workers in the SINTO region.

However a feature of the Webbed community is that it is not restricted geographically - it is as easy to debate with someone on the other side of the globe as it is with someone in the same town or even the same building. Also what happens in the blog sphere tends to stay in the blog sphere, so if you are not part of that you can miss out on the debate.

These observations were triggered by my reading of the Encyclopedia Britannica blog. This describes itself as a place for smart, lively conversations about a broad range of topics but its significance is that Britannica represents the scholarly, authoritative and traditional source of information which is often seen as being in opposition to the Internet, Google, Wikipedia and Web 2.0. At one level Britannica Blog represents the "establishment" adopting Web 2.0 tools in order to remain relevant but it is also a platform for the Web-sceptics to hit back.

Britannica Blog recently invited Michael Gorman, past president of the American Library Association, to explore the state of knowledge, learning, and authority in a series of essays. These provide a primer for anyone interested in this topic. To take some quotes at random (and out of context - please read the originals):

"The true challenge for businesses, search engines, schools, and publishers is discovering how to tap into and exploit this source of reputable and reliable information. Until that occurs, we may well be raising a generation of screen potatoes who, blinded by speed and made lazy by convenience, are ignorant of the knowledge they will never acquire and the rich world of learning that search engines cannot currently deliver to them."

"Print does not necessarily bestow authenticity, and an increasing number of digital resources do not, by themselves, reflect an increase in expertise. The task before us is to extend into the digital world the virtues of authenticity, expertise, and scholarly apparatus that have evolved over the 500 years of print, virtues often absent in the manuscript age that preceded print."

"An encyclopedia (literally, the “circle of learning”) is the product of many minds. It is not the product of a collective mind. It is an assemblage of texts that have been written by people with credentials and expertise and that have been edited, verified, and supplied with a scholarly apparatus enabling the user to locate desired knowledge. It differs in almost all relevant particulars from one of the current manifestations of the flight from expertise—Wikipedia, which bills itself as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” and to which everyone can contribute irrespective of whether they possess, or simply pretend to possess, credentials and expertise. "

The blog also carries posts responding to these essays. I suspect that Britannica has weeded out the more extreme postings but what remains provide a lively and passionate debate from both sides. Some posters have claimed that it is ironic that a critic of Web 2.0 should be contributing to a blog but that misses the point. It is not the technology that is the problem but how it is used. It would be ironic however if the web-sceptics were to miss out on this important debate because they do not read blogs. Perhaps you, dear reader, could ask yourself the question - what do you do to ensure that your colleagues in your workplace are kept in touch with these forum? What policy does your workplace have to ensure that all staff are kept up-to-date with the latest professional debates? Is there an issue of professional ethics involved here? Comments please!

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