Friday, June 20, 2008

Context Over Dogma

Chris Bangle, Chief of Design for BMW Group, described BMW's design philosophy as context over dogma. That phrase specifically struck a cord with me, especially when I viewed R. David Lankes presentation on Participatory Librarianship.

As I interpret it, Lankes describes the need to get away from item level descriptions and focus more on how that item may be connected to other items. Lankes argues that the connections are key in new knowledge creation, and the library should provide the user all the tools necessary to make those connections. In essence, the interconnected data (i.e. the whole) is greater than the sum of its parts, and it can be reconfigured anytime to meet the user's specific information needs.

It is analogous to the retail mantra "right product, right place, right time, right price." However, information is not necessarily bound by physicality. Through the use of technology, we have the means to give the user the ability to structure information as they see fit.

The Right Product

The right product is based on the user's need. Having the information accessible/findable is one part. Being able to adapt the information to the user's need is another. Finally, giving the user the ability to easily find it for future use and the ability to share it make the information and services we provide exactly what the user needs.

The Right Place

When contemporary users have an information need, they want the answer quickly and efficiently. Should it matter that the user is in the grocery store, at a ballgame, or in a restaurant? No! We need to be able to provide value-added services regardless of whether the user is in the library, at a computer, or out and about. The right place is wherever the user is at.

The Right Time

The right time is anytime. Whether the physical library is open or closed, access to information should never cease. This could be through proxy access* to databases or to knowledgeable library staff that are part of a consortium like Ohio's Know-It-Now 24/7.

*But why should we have to go to the library's Web site to gain access? We should devise a way to access networks that are library branded but free of the library's Web site. Something akin to what data portability is all about.

The Right Price

Free*. I've commented on this before. Libraries, even special libraries in some cases, should make their services available to the community at large for free. Free in the sense of initially being subsidized. For public libraries, that is through taxation and grants. For academic libraries, that is through tuition and grants. For museum libraries, that's through fees and grants. For special libraries, that is through a reinvestment of profits. In each case, there are real opportunities to create additional revenues through premium services. Those premium services, if shown to the patron/client as being truly beneficial, will offset the cost of the program, and, hopefully, introduce an additional revenue stream.

Our dogma is to have strict control over the organization of our product. In our world of mass customization, user control, and budding transparency, our dogma is our death knell. However, technology is a tool that allows us to contextualize the information for the user's specific needs. Our relevancy depends on the value our users place on us. Context over dogma indeed.

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