Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Severability part II: One insitution, indivisible

This is the second article in a three part series of on the idea of severability in the library. In the first part of the series I outlined the concept of severability and attempted to outline how such an idea could be applied in the library setting to re-envision the library as an institution and reconstruct our services from the ground up. In this, the second part of the series I’m going to double back on myself and make a counter argument; that the different parts Libraries are un-severable. 

In the first piece in this series I wrote that I believed that the idea of severability could be a useful concept in helping libraries move forward in tough times. Defining what an institution or business is at its core has its applications, but in cultural institutions like libraries and museums it becomes difficult. The reason for this is that culture itself is complicated.

In explaining it I feel like I’m going to get all Doctorish (as in, The Doctor), and start spouting nonsense about wibbly wobbley timey whimey… stuff. To sum up my argument: severability requires temporal clarity: An institution like a library, serves multiple purposes, constituencies, ideologies and temporalities. It not only has a set of texts that are based in multiple temporalities, its semiotic identity is also a web of historical and future images which are both, attached to it as an institution and core parts of its nature. As a result, it becomes almost impossible to achieve the clarity needed to apply the concept of severability.

The library isn’t indivisible because of the hopes, dreams, and ideologies we place into, there are many similar institutions that reductive processes can be applied to.  Libraries have immunity because of its unique construction. In many ways libraries are the original cloud. Cutting them is just as difficult.
In essence I believe that organizations have temporal orientation. I say orientation rather than location because organizations and institutions exist across time. They’re own nature largely define their orientation. 
For example preservation organizations serve the past, service organizations serve the present, and producing organization/leadership organizations serve the future. Libraries serve all three. 

By seeking to provide access to past information to all its constituents, to provide the current best information, and to provide the ability of patrons to develop new information, libraries are necessarily seated in all three. Libraries must preserve the information resources so that future generations can access them. At the same time library mission statements lay out a clear commitment to serving the immediate needs of stakeholders in the present. As new resources are developed librarians integrate them into their collections so that they are useful in the future. Finally, most scholarship on literacy includes techne related to production as part of their definition. Libraries as literacy organizations must promote the ability to produce and use information in their constituents. Libraries use the knowledge of the past, in the present, with the goal of building a better future.

The unseated nature of the library means that cuts deeply effect the institutions commitments to its multiple temporalities. For instance cuts to cataloging/metadata departments in order to maintain or increase user services may result in a degradation of long term findability of items. Findability matters because an un-findable item effectively does not exist.  As another examples bulk purchasing contemporary titles, without planning for preservation of older work can lead to a space shortage and unnecessarily aggressive weeding. Finally, libraries have in the past made the mistake of discarding valuable materials after “preserving them” in a modern format, only to find that the material was either, incorrectly preserved, or that the medium chosen lacked durability. Showing that future focus on technologies can be an otherwise robust institution’s Achilles’ heel.

In conclusion, what can you cut? Nothing. The library can and should remain; one institution, indivisible, with knowledge, and learning for all.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I'm in the process of centralizing my online presence. While we wait for the new site, here's a video about our network identity and it's commodification.