Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Library 2.0 boredom, and Gnostic ramblings

I have to admit, I’m bored.

I spend my days working as a librarian. I mostly deal with cataloging, metadata, digital projects, and technology implementation. At least that’s what I do in theory. Anyone who has worked in this field can tell you that librarians hate to implement anything new. In the university milieu, that also translates to the IT department. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for all universities here, but certainly our IT department is what you might deem “over-cautious” about trying new things. The consequence of this is that I spend less time helping with technology implementation than you might think. I suppose there is a bonus to this. The last time I was involved with a full-scale implementation was in 2005, when I moved 37 libraries that were technically a consortium to a new library system that functioned in such a way that it assumed—get ready for this—that they were a consortium. They were appalled by the thought that they should do anything as a unit, so it made for some interesting times for me during the implementation process. There were days I wanted to fling either myself or some key person on one of my committees out of the nearest window. So, I should not complain about working in an environment that really makes very few technological demands of me on a day to day basis.

It’s not really work that bugs me, it’s my field. Librarians are so caught up in this whole “Web 2.0” thing, and in the “open source software” thing. Both are useful in their appropriate contexts. But I’m frankly bored sh**less with both of them. It’s like buying an appliance. I may find the appliance useful; heck, I might use it every day and recommend it to my friends. But I really don’t want to talk about it ad nauseam. People talk about this stuff like it’s great sex or a wild adventure. But it’s just another tool or set of tools. Big whoop.

The problem is that many folks leading institutions don’t know a whole lot about these things, but they’re obviously “hot” topics, so they view as go-getters anyone who has half a clue about any of it. The entire Computers in Libraries conference in Washington this year is dedicated to “social networking” and “open source”. Frankly, if you don’t have a clue about it by now you never will, so quit talking and either do something, or go away. And once you do something—great, beautiful, wonderful. I don’t want to talk about it or hear about it endlessly unless I’ve hired you to cure my insomnia. (I don’t have insomnia, so that’s not likely). But librarians do more talking than actual acting, and it’s likely that they will continue talking long after I’ve boycotted every library technology conference out there.

There are some projects that need to be talked about. Certainly any large-scale migrations need to be planned and discussed. However, having survived one large-scale migration, I think I would rather get some popcorn and watch the political infighting rather than participate in it. Willingly steering a large system migration is like throwing yourself into a tank full of sharks—you might come out alive, but you’ll probably be missing a limb or two. Even if all of your limbs are intact, your sanity probably won’t be. As I get older, I find I have less patience for the politics that go on in large groups. Watching the politics isn’t much fun anymore, either—I think would rather sit through another iteration of Kenneth Anger’s “Lucifer Rising.” At least that movie makes some sense.

Speaking of both Lucifer Rising and interesting conversation—I went out with two very good friends this weekend who have a great interest in/knowledge of, shall we say, “hermetical” things. We had an interesting discussion about Gnosticism. A statement was made that has given me a lot of food for thought—“Archons cannot be defeated, they can only be tricked.” Archons are servants of the Demiurge, that Being that functions as a Creator God, but jealously guards the secret to attaining actual unity with the Divine (which is beyond the Creator God in the Gnostic view). Anyone who moves towards the secret will be thwarted, and even if he or she gains some kind of enlightenment, the people around him/her are not likely to be similarly enlightened. As a result, society attempts to drag you away from that union. You can only play the game by speaking the same social language as everyone else. If you are too radical, you will be dismissed as a freak, a heretic, or a “devil worshipper”, and there will be attempts to discredit you. If you are too credible to be dismissed, you’ll be minimized as somehow being cute or humorous. Those attempts are usually successful enough to prevent any massive social change from occurring. And so we plod onwards, as clueless and self-limited as ever.

We also talked about the works of Philip K. Dick. Many of Dick’s novels and stories center on the theme of identity—we can’t really say for sure who we are. Phil Dick really writes about this in a mind-blowing way. The concept behind “Scanner Darkly” is probably enough said on that point, though it is only one example.

Dick personally believed that the Roman Empire never ended, and that he was living a parallel life; one life was as writer Philip K. Dick, the other as a persecuted Christian named Thomas around the time of the Acts of the Apostles. He believed both lives were happening concurrently. The ideas are all interesting; we don’t know enough about ourselves, about time, or about existence, to know if Dick was crazy, or if he was right. It makes me wish I had a mind for Physics, among other things. On the plus side—my discussions with my friends have allowed me to tie together errant strands of the fiction I’ve been working on, and a very nice break from talking about library stuff. Thanks guys!

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