Friday, 15 April 2011

Blogging and its role in research. Discussion led by Angharad Roberts

To introduce the discussion topic, I spoke briefly about my interest in blogging and about my new research blog. I also mentioned the Research Information Network (2011) Social Media: A Guide for Researchers which I found particularly useful in the early stages of thinking about setting up a blog. The group then discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of blogging and of researcher engagement with social media tools more generally. Some of the issues raised included:
  • The opportunities offered by private (as opposed to public) blogs, which facilitate collaboration between teams of researchers without the same potential degree of exposure as public blogs;
  • The potential ethical issues relating to the use of social media tools, particularly because of the spontaneous and informal style of communication which they encourage;
  • Potential issues relating to self-plagiarism when reusing blog content in more formal writing;
  • The lack of permanence of blog content - posts can be edited or deleted at any time;
  • How a blog can help to raise a researcher's profile;
  • The potential to use blogs as primary data sources - a form of auto-ethnography - in research studies;
  • Challenges in following other people's blogs and managing the large amount of information they provide.
I found Sheila's suggestions about ways to promote a blog particularly useful. These included: providing links to the blog when engaging with discussion lists or commenting on other people's blogs, tweeting about new posts, and including the blog address in email signatures and on presentations.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Warburg Institute (by Liz Chapman)

The Warburg Institute, which is part of the University of London, focuses on research in cultural history, art history and the history of ideas, and its library is world-leading in many areas relating to these disciplines. Recently, the Warburg has greatly increased its online presence: for example, it is on Facebook and Twitter, and it has an ongoing programme of digitisation. However, I want to focus on the way in which hard-copy texts are classified and presented: this has some interesting contrasts and also parallels with some of the more digital-focused projects presented in previous weeks, particularly in terms of what it suggests about the ways in which users locate materials.

The library is divided into four main sections: Image, Word, Orientation (the shift from magical beliefs to religion, science and philosophy) and Action (social and political behaviour). In all of these sections the focus is on how images, themes, literary forms, beliefs, approaches to scholarship and behaviours show both change and continuity over time (Warburg Institute, 2011). Rather than employing a traditional hierarchical classification system of discrete sub-sections, the Warburg tends to sub-divide general classes into broad sections which are not necessarily mutually exclusive. This helps the researcher to find interconnections and, by avoiding hierarchy, also avoids implications of precedence (Minter, 2008).

Within the sections the most important factor is that each book has something in common with the books next to it, a principle known as “the law of the good neighbour” (Friman et al., 1995). This theory holds that the book which will be most useful to you is not the one you think you are looking for, but the one next to it on the shelf. Research on serendipity supports this, as researchers report that the best ideas are often sparked by something only tangentially related to their current thinking. For this reason, the library also has completely open stacks to facilitate serendipitous information finding and to encourage cross-disciplinary research. Rare books are scanned and a copy is printed out for the open stacks, while individual articles are also kept on the shelves alongside related books.

In addition, the library also retains books on open shelving even if they have not been used recently. Professor Ernst Gombrich, formerly the Director of the Warburg Institute, once observed that in arts subjects, it is precisely the books which haven’t been used for many years which will provide interesting information, because they have been overlooked (Cieszkowski, 1991). This is fascinating in its contrast with what one is generally taught in library school, and it also has implications for the development and use of digital technologies in research libraries.
Cieszkowski (1991). “Heresy and the pleasures of the hunt.” Art Libraries Journal, 16 (1), 20-22.
Friman et al. (1995). “Chaos or order? Aby Warburg’s library of cultural history and its classification.” Knowledge Organization, 22 (1), 23-29.
Minter (2008). “ ‘Liberating the responsibility to think for oneself’: the Warburg Institute library classification.” Knowledge Organization, 35 (4), 192-208.
Warburg Institute (2011). Classification Scheme.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Comparing and classifying

Imagine an ignorant northern European, dropped at the edge of a tropical jungle.  He knows only things from his homeland.  In the distance, he sees something as black as a crow.  A gust of wind shakes the nearby trees.  The object sits, solid and unmoving.  It’s obviously not a crow then. 

Against the grey green shade of the trees, the pitch black object stands out.  A nut falls from the canopy.  It hits the object and bounces off.  There is a dull thud.  On a hot day like this, pitch would be soft and sticky.  Whatever sort of black it is, it is not pitch black. 

The man moves closer.  Beside the trees sits a round carved object.  He picks it up.  It looks as black as coal, or as black as jet, but it feels like neither of them. 

The mysterious force that dropped him near the jungle picks him up and whisks him home.  He returns, the proud possessor of an ebony carving and a new source of similes and metaphors.

OK - forgive the somewhat fanciful turn that this blog has taken.  The point that I am labouring to make is that we classify according to what we're familiar with, and that's especially relevant to LIS people.  Thanks to Liz C for not only offering to give a short talk about the classification system of the Warburg Library at the forthcoming researchers' discussion group (Thursday 14/04, 16.30, Rm 324) but also for reminding me of George Lakoff.  His book "Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things" gave me food for thought when I did the MSc here years ago. 

The main event this Thursday however, is a discussion on blogs and their role in research, to be led by Angharad (who's working overtime, since she also contributed to last month's discussion).