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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Monday, April 24, 2006

    Two against free speech

    The ethos that underlies the Web – let alone Web 2.0 – is one of free speech. The Internet allows anyone anywhere to have their say, to comment, to publish; the current moves to so-called “social information” extends this freedom still further. The tools of the Internet in 2006 are tagging, blogs, shared book marking, wikis, and swickis. Which makes it all the more surprising that RSS Blog reported in ‘Wikipedia is broken’ that:
    Wikipedia is internatizing their link structure and removing many useful external links. Whenever you review these occurances, the Wikipedia folk are referring to all external links as link spam. [Its] usefulness as a portal to the Web is disappearing. Wikipedia is now a portal to Wikipedia, all links simply point back to Wikipedia.

    If Wikipedia is indeed removing links to outside resources, this seems to be anti-social behaviour. Or perhaps it is just an attempts to control a kingdom going out of control.

    The problem is expressed well by Shirky (reported in O’Reilly Radar):

    Axis. X axis is freedom. Left edge is Notepad – no matter how many users, never going to catalyse conversations. Right edge is Usenet – anyone with email address or web access can start or contribute to conversation. Y axis is annoyingness… once you give a social tool to people, you get all the social problems.
    One fine day in April, Dave Winer said “I have grown tired of the fractiousness of this list, and I am turning it into a moderated list” unilaterally. This was not well received by members of the list. … Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan advanced the argument that humans in our native state lead lives of such chaos that we need a monarch to impose control and without it our lives would be nasty, brutish, and short. If from time to time tyranny happens, still better than the alternative. Rousseau wrote later that might is not right. Leader must support subjects, and subjects have right to agitate against leader if they’re not being well served. … Social software is the experimental wing of political philosophy, a discipline that doesn’t realize it has an experimental wing.
    Which brings me to my second example. Back in March, I posted a message that the mailing list, LIS-CILIP, was at risk of closure. LIS-CILIP is an un-moderated list open to members and non-members alike, and often plays host to debates on professional issues, and CILIP’s position on those issues. Often CILIP has played little part in these debates and often CILIP had been perceived as arrogant or uncaring.

    Since my March post, Councillors have managed to flag up CILIP’s decision to close the list for debate at the next meeting, and the list will only be closed if Councillors decide that it serves no purpose. My worry is that this one little removal of one tool for free speech amongst the library and information communities will affect CILIP even more adversely than previous failures to comment. It will demonstrate very clearly that CILIP is not interested in listening. CILIP needs to hear what the world thinks – so that it can act, react, evolve, grow. (Psst! CILIP – you also need LIS-CILIP to reach non-members.)

    I would also point out that if LIS-CILIP is closed down, the debate will move underground: recent activity in the FreePint Bar has demonstrated that issues will continue to be voiced, as Information World Review pointed out, perhaps just a little too gleefully today.

    It may be annoying, may not be comfortable, to see adverse or critical comment posted publicly – probably the reason that Bob McKee himself told me a year ago that LIS-CILIP is unhelpful, wastes staff time, and should be closed down. This seemed to me then and seems to me now a wholly inappropriate response in a time of social information, and a poor response in a time when CILIP wants to grow its membership. It also seems inappropriate that CILIP does not learn from – or at least heed – what is said (see my previous post on evolution), instead of responding that the writers obviously have not understood all the good things that CILIP does. I recall that past-president Maggie Haines’ theme was ‘CILIP as a learning organisation’ – first it must learn to learn. As Bob McKee still says on the CILIP web site (I am quoting his 2002 comment)

    “The new list will be an important two-way communication channel for CILIP and all its Members, wherever they are based. It will also help forge strong links between Members, which is crucial to the development of our new Institute… The establishment of LIS-CILIP is one of the first steps towards achieving CILIP's vision of an inclusive e-community Institute, fit to serve the needs of library and information professionals in the 21st century.”

    The Tavistock Institute, in their evaluation of the People’s Network [PDF], wrote that it had been hindered by what their researchers “perceive[d] to be the non-reflexive culture of the library profession” – it begins to look as if CILIP has inherited the very nature of its parent profession, and is resisting what many of us see as necessary change. I called for the review of governance because it had become obvious that there was too much power vested in senior management, and too little active management by the Councillors – the “governing body” of CILIP. Preponderant authority risks unbalanced influence.

    Chomsky [Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, Penguin, 2003] wrote of the US that, “hegemony, with its short-term benefits to elite interests, is ranked above survival in the scale of operative values”: if CILIP is to survive as a useful professional body, if CILIP is to represent its professional communities, if CILIP is to grow in influence, it must truly become an organization that learns from, and which vests its governance in, both its members and the profession at large.

    Rousseau was right.

    ¿Le gusta este jardin, que es suyo? ¡Evite que sus hijos lo destruyan!

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