Session 2 notes

There were four speakers in this session, whose talks are briefly summarised here:
  • Juanita Foster-Jones spoke on Information and Libraries: Impact of Web 2.0, starting with an observation that the traditional image of a library is very physical, with shelves of books and catalogues. David Weinberger, in his book ‘Everything is miscellaneous’, says that classification was devised because of this physical nature of information, because information (books) had a (single) physical location. This is changing, especially with ‘Web 2.0’, and Juanita explored the role of the librarian in the light of these changes. What would a library look like in Second Life? What about games – perhaps finding information in the library web site could be like a quest in a game. In web 2.0 ‘the user is king’, and this is reflected in the newly-launched Open Library 2.0, as well as the content of TU120: Beyond Google. The librarian’s skills are still essentially the same as they have always been (finding information, evaluating information) and are arguably needed more than ever. 
  • Liz Daniel holds a chair in Information Management in the Business School, and spoke on Information Governance in Organisations. Liz presented a model of competences required by IS groups within organisations, representing how IS can support purposeful activity. An organisation can be analysed by assigning a score against each of about 25 – 30 sub-competences, and areas of strengths and weaknesses can be identified. Similarly Marchand et al have looked at organisations’ Information Orientation (the capabilities of a company to effectively manage and use information), and have claimed to be able to show that companies scoring high in Information Orientation perform better. While these ideas seem fine on paper, it becomes more difficult when you have to address it at an individual level, what does it mean for me in my role in the organisation. Training in the use of information is important as are issues of information integrity (in terms of correct handling of information – ethics). Liz finished by observing that she works alongside a Professor of Knowledge Management, and ‘Information’ seems prosaic alongside knowledge. 
  • Paul Lefrere spoke about Information that Matters, and explored the idea that what matters depends upon who we are. He illustrated this with examples including: the information for prospective students provided by Liverpool University with that provided by the OU; the interpretation of a map of cholera outbreaks in Victorian London; and a web site aimed at explaining the rules of cricket to Americans. In business, value depends upon the time delay between an event and a response. Increasingly we are in multiple worlds, and we need to pay attention to how our experience influences how we interpret those worlds. Taleb’s ‘The Black Swan’ uses the case of the swans: prior to contact with Australia, Europeans believe all swans to be white. Black swans were outside previous experience. Usually we see things that reinforce what we already know (“white swans”), our planning assumes this. We need to be prepared to re-think in the event of a ‘black swan’. Thus the 9/11 attacks changed the way we see things. 
  • John Monk spoke of Signs and Signals. He started with the statement that ICT is primarily about signs intentionally produced by people. His talk was illustrated by photographs of a large number of signs, of many different types, serving many different functions and chosen to explain many different features of signs (such as the binding of signs to things). He concluded: “Signs have a physical and social element, there is a great deal of freedom in choosing the physical element, but cultural constraints can make it difficult to bring about change. Signs lend a physical presence to the metaphysical – and falsehood, and facilitate lying, cheating and masquerading. Finally a sign intrudes on its context, and allows authority to influence at a distance. In short, a sign is a political device that can never be trusted.” 
Discussion 1

(There was a short discussion immediately following Juanita’s talk because Juanita needed to depart before the rest of the talks in the session.)

Kirsty asked about the uses that the library made of information about users. Juanita said that they kept user feedback and log of all enquiries, but their use of the information was constrained by data protection issues.  Paul talked about Enterprise Content Management (ECM), and the experience of German partners.  Though privacy is much more thought about in Germany, libraries in Germany are much more advanced in the use they make of this type information.  There was a general discussion of what it is permitted for libraries to do with information.

Jon Rosewell asked if the role librarians is now to do themselves out a job.  Juanita said that her job had changed – she no longer shelves books, catalogue, sits at a desk telling people to be quiet.  She devises learning activities and training sessions.  Her role is helping people in information management, presentation of information, user tagging…  - there is still a role!  

Discussion 2

Sue observed that context had emerged as significant in all the talks, and suggested that perception – world view, set of standards – is equally as important.  These are two complex concepts that none of us can do without but none of us know how to deal with either of them.

Allan said that metaphors are important, and introduced another: a court of law.  People are trying to persuade other people of the truth of certain things, and they bring forward, and what counts as evidence depends on the point that is being made.  Appearance of counter evidence has to be interpreted.  A black swan does not necessarily disprove the contention that all swans are white. It is an anomaly that you have to account for – it might not be a swan, it might be something else.

(Allan) Business has taken over from science as the model of the supremely rational human activity.  We see business charts that show that business decisions are rational, but why don’t we treat them like any other evidence.  They show that someone has persuaded someone else of something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have arrived at the truth of the matter. Paul:  on top of business systems and information systems, you have social systems, legal systems etc.  Corporations set targets to perform above the average for the industry, but this is incompatible with having publicly available information in every area of the business – secrecy has to play a part in the business. A tension between what you want to say to people and what you are obliged to say.  Magnus talked about the work of Richard Harper, who did a long term ethnographic study of IMF information.  He found that when the IMF did one of their interventions in a country with financial difficulties, they bring a lot of ‘hard’ economic information, and this ostensibly is the basis of their decision making.  Behind that is a set of nuanced conversations with the stakeholders in the country, which is the real basis of the decisions. Interestingly, Harper presented this at a conference, but later played it down in his book.  Seemingly, even the ethnographer is having to give a dual version of the information.  Liz, regarding the rational view of business ‘winning out’, suggested that businesses want to hear this from each other.  They follow trends, but afterwards have to justify by it being rational.  Wisdom seems to have a slightly non-rational element – beyond rational?  Post-rational? Or is wisdom the ultimate rational?  John quoted Wittgenstein: “reasons are not causes”.

A male participant: Further to wisdom, what about luck?  Above wisdom?  Paul: You end up being called ‘sage’ because you were there.

There was a discussion about John Monk’s statement that signs have to be intentional to be counted as ICT.  Jon Rosewell suggested that a lot of information management is about finding information that you didn’t know was there, and gave the example of Amazon sales records which can be used for purposes that they were not intended.  This led Kirsty? to comment on the wider issue of unintended consequences. CRM, knowledge discovery and databases, consumer profiling has the effect of creating invisible social structures the discriminate in the ability to pay, which gives some social groups entitlement over others.  Another example was the strategy of weighing rubbish bins to make people pay for the amount that people throw away, but what happened was that people started putting their rubbish in other people’s bins. John Monk said that the sign maker creates an expression, while the sign reader has an impression from the sign.  But the impression and the expression might be very different.

Mariano picked up on the ‘weighing rubbish’ example, suggesting that it could be viewed as an information system that is badly designed.  There are other systems (designed for the same purpose), such as in Switzerland where you have to buy your rubbish bag in advance, and only put it out when it is full.  John Monk said that they have the same system in Taiwan, but there us a black-market in forged rubbish bags.

A male participant suggested that perhaps in the electronic world there are not enough internationally-valid signs.  John said that it is what social interaction and culture is all about, and perhaps we haven’t developed the culture, we have acculturated ourselves to the electronic world.  In terms of language, the language hasn’t developed yet, or for some people, it is a foreign language.