I’ve been batting about some ideas lately in the cat-swatting-a-toy way, and just to get some of these things off my mind, I’m dumping them here. These musings are not perfectly articulated, and I realize that… so I hope you do, too.
For review, Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science (Wikipedia):
- Books are for use.
- Every reader his [or her] book.
- Every book its reader.
- Save the time of the reader.
- The library is a growing organism.
On the Wikipedia page linked above, you will also see a few of the many variations that have been created over the years. I know we don’t need another goshdarn version of the Five Laws, but some online readings of late had me turning these over in my mind. It started with the if:book post about the future of the app, which reminded me of a couple posts from earlier this year — one arguing for books to become apps, and one about Elements, a website that became a book and then an app. I personally don’t want my books mixed in with my apps just yet, but at the same time I can see how the interface potential of apps can offer a whole new twist on our relationship with text. In the Elements article, author Theodore Gray was asked about the blurring between the book and the app version, to which he replied:
I think it’s confusing … for there to be both a bookstore and a books category in the App Store. These two places exist for purely technical reasons, and not very good ones at that. Hopefully at some point Apple will fix this. In the mean time, all the interesting ebooks will need to go in the App Store, because the iBookstore is not able to handle them.
When talking about the Future of the App, Bob Stein wrote:
In the past we had books, movies and songs. Now they’re all being bundled into one category — apps — to be further delineated by a descriptive prefix. It’s easy to imagine today that movies will have back stories and fan elaborations available on the web and new fiction forms will explore and make use of a complex amalgam of media types. The categories — books, songs, movies — meant something in the past that loses specific meaning in this fluid digital domain where each can incorporate aspects of the other.
So whether I like the idea or not, I do agree that the nature of our media is changing and morphing into something we can’t necessarily describe right now. The potential of coming-soon apps like Rethink’s Social Books has me excited to see what kind of community experiences we can have with our rediscovered love of reading.
This leads me to thinking about the Five Laws of Library Science because somewhere deep down I have long been annoyed that these famous library principles restrict us (perhaps not literally, but by connotation) to books. Rather than restrict us to any format at all, I came up with a revision like this:
- Information is for use.
- For every question, an answer.
- For every answer, a question.
- Save the time of the information seeker.
- Knowledge is a growing organism.
For my purposes, I am defining information very simply as “the answer to a question” and information seekers as “people with questions”. These questions might be anything from “What is the sun made of?” to “Who else is on Facebook chat right now?” A book might answer the first question but cannot possibly answer the second.
Yes, I know “information” is a loaded term with a long history of debated definitions. Unfortunately, I don’t know of a better term to use. ”Knowledge” is just as fuzzy – in my visual-thinking brain, I imagine Knowledge as the older, more mature sister of giddy, high-strung Information.
What I like about this version is that I can (more easily) apply it to far more scenarios in the library because the medium carrying the information is altogether removed. This also serves as a reminder to me (and as a geek, I need it) that it’s not about the gadget, silly. Books are gadgets, iPads are another gadget. Jason Griffey has elegantly pointed out that the distinction between content and container is becoming more important, but I disagree with him on one key point. He says “We already know, more or less, how to deal with content.” I think it’s the opposite — I think we’ve been so focused for so long on curating the containers that we lost sight of just how significant the content is. With the Open Access movement, content seems to be slowly getting the proper attention again. But if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the containers – the books and gadgets – then the star-crossed destinies of questions and answers will be reduced to financial transactions.