Simon Pockley of The Flight of Ducks (an amazing, poetic web experience if you have a few minutes to explore!) and also a colleague told me a fascinating story this morning about alternative approaches to handling information.
Essentially he and others were talking at a recent metadata conference in Seattle about libraries and the way they organise information and a Nicaraguan librarian shared her experience of dealing with a posthumous bequeath of an individuals entire personal library.
Now in Australia (and probably any European or N American library I’m guessing), what would happen would be that the books would be checked against existing stock, examined as to their condition, classified under the Dewey system and then placed / archived / sold on accordingly.
Not in Nicaragua!
Instead the library set apart an area / constructed a separate wing for the personal library and organised it exactly as it had been in the deceased home. This way they could study their indexing and organization, readers could experience the library as it was set out by the individual / family and a coherent collection of books was kept together as a coherent whole.
I’m not entirely sure what this means but, for me, it really resonates and gets the cogs going when thinking about these discussions over tagging, organisation and the ‘centred’ (as opposed to ‘centralised’) development and management of information through weblogs / CMSs. Very interesting.
My father, a minister, educator and unusually astute thinker, and I had a conversation about his personal library a couple of years ago, and what would become of it when he’s no longer here to use it. He wondered if each of us children would like to request which books we’d like to have. For the first time, I realized that it’s not about the books, even though some are valuable, but about the intellectual life constructed around the books that is meaningful to me. I suggested that we try to keep the library intact. And then I had a flash of inspiration. I’ve been trying to get my dad to write some kind of narrative of his life work, but he hasn’t been willing to consider such a large task. I came up with the idea of going through the library and taking each well loved book and asking him to tell the story of his relationship to that book, how and when he acquired it, where was he at the time (in terms of his intellectual/spiritual experience as well as his physical time and space). He hasn’t taken up my challenge yet, but has expressed an interest in the project.
In an age where disembodied information is proliferating faster than anyone can possibly comprehend, the concept of building meaning by tying information to our own historical settings is really attractive to me. I think that might be possible with the new technologies, and I suspect we might improve our practice just by being aware of this aspect of what we’re doing?
Tying it to ourselves, our communities, our families… who we are. I can’t help but shudder every time I come across these pools of spiritless, contextless objects. Thnaks for a great comment. James
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