Mankind's Memory Managers: A New Paradigm of Library Science

By Bizjak, Primoz | Library Philosophy and Practice, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview
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Mankind's Memory Managers: A New Paradigm of Library Science

Bizjak, Primoz, Library Philosophy and Practice


Library science is in ferment. The problems we encounter are no accident, but rather are the result of rapid development in the world of information. Library science has faced many changes in recent years, and, as a result, it is a discipline in need of revision.

Practically speaking, we can see that conventional library materials have been joined by a great variety of new types of records. Materials such as books and serial publications, and less common ones such as maps, manuscripts, and incunabula, which predominated for centuries, now compete with microforms, sound recordings, videorecordings, CD-ROMs, computer files, Internet sites, and so forth. All these items can be found on the shelves of virtually every library, irrespective of its size. The increased variety of records is the first and the most apparent change since the new technologies of recording became our everyday companion. Because of these new types of records, a library is no longer seen only as an institution where one can get hold of books. This new image causes misunderstandings, not only among users but also among librarians

Librarians previously used a card index to catalog materials. Cards have a compact form (still appreciated by librarians) because of space limitations that required a terseness of expression. When working with computerized bibliographic records such limitations no longer exist. Librarians may be confused by this freedom, as cataloging rules are altered and extended and get more complex year by year. Moreover, it often seems that the authors of the "improvements" to the rules do not know the exact purpose of this exercise and therefore they experiment. When we add to these changes the continuous improvements to computer hardware and software, we should not be surprised that some librarians are apprehensive.

We began by considering the problem of the diversity of materials, continued with the changeability of cataloging rules for controlling those materials, and now get to the root of the matter, namely the theory of the library science and the question of its subject matter and course of study. Examining the professional literature of librarianship makes it clear that the problem is fundamentally conceptual. Such terminological confusion and vagueness can hardly be found in any other discipline. The need to draw a distinction between logical facts and aims and physical facts and technologies for achieving them on the other hand is more wishful thinking than reality. Some authors prefer to stress technological advances and recount all the available computer services, others fancy the image of the library as an information center, although they cannot tell you in detail what aspects of information they have in mind. (1)

First, we must establish some primary conceptual boundaries and, on that basis, try to illuminate some aspects of the domains of physical and logical. To put the practice of librarianship into the new social context which is introduced by digitization will be an experiment, a working hypothesis.

Analog and Digital Records

Life teaches us that human memory is not very reliable. If we look at history, we see various types of records that help us overcome this obstacle. Human culture preserves itself by means of these records. And it in is this social reality that the practice of librarianship is set. An objectivized memory, or, in other words, various types of records, are the subject of study of that aspect of library science which preserves and transmits materials to users.

Physical Carriers of Records

A book is first of all a physical thing, a bunch of papers bound together and written in ink. It is this physical fact that enables the tired memory to find a temporary domicile. Paper and ink can be replaced with other materials, but we still have to deal with some kind of physical carrier. At another level, a writing system can be looked at as an encoding system.

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Mankind's Memory Managers: A New Paradigm of Library Science


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