The Identity Crisis of Libraries in the Attention Economy

By Kazi, Nishat | Library Philosophy and Practice, January 2012 | Go to article overview

The Identity Crisis of Libraries in the Attention Economy


Kazi, Nishat, Library Philosophy and Practice


Introduction

In the present day world, the ecology that the human beings inhabit is laden with various kinds of spaces and places. Our ecology encompasses different kinds of cyberspaces and market places that continuously sway our mind. This character of continuously influencing and controlling the human psyche according to Herbert Simon makes our economy an 'attention economy'. The concept of 'attention economy' revolves around the innumerable existing spaces and places and the human attention. Attention Economy is considered to be one where there is scarcity of human attention. Davenport & Beck defines attention as, "focused mental engagement on a particular message or piece of information" and the attention economy as one where the scarcest resource is no longer just "capital, labour, information and knowledge," but human attention (Davenport & Beck 2001, 20). In the attention economy there is a constant competition among different spaces and places to attract the maximum segment of the scarcest modern resource. In the modern world of consumerism only those survive the tide who seeks the attention of many. Identity assertion can be stated as the order of the day. This continuous strive of representation and recognition by the individuals and institutions determine the entities success and failure. Looking at the way the nature of the modern society restructures itself Lanham writes, "We are moving from material to method. Stuff in them is getting evaporated before our stuff-clouded eyes ... [and] the world has become a stage, staging itself for a visitor's eye" (Lanham, 2006). Lanham means to say that the present day world has adapted 'change' as its permanent character. Today, the world is moving so fast that it takes no time for a mode of technology to become outdated. In the attention economy life and death of every thing depends upon the attention it attracts and the changes it adapts. In this sense attention plays a significant role in the development of libraries also.

Herbert Simon was the pioneer to articulate the concept of attention economics when he wrote:

  "... in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a
  dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that
  information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it
  consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of
  information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that
  attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources
  that might consume it" (Simon, 1971).

According to him, in the attention economy the information has the power to consume the attention of the people. The scarcity of attention is the result of overload of information. Therefore, the competition is among the varieties of information in the environment. Generally, a person looks at the thing that draws his/her attention. In doing so the capacity to look at other things diminishes. This is why it is important in the attention economy for information organizations to define ways they can command and hold the attention of prospective patrons. In the attention economy representation of guarantees the sustenance of the organization. Identity crisis may be due to inadequate representation in the attention economy. The identity crisis in the attention economy may be recurring, as in the changing world we are required to constantly redefine and represent ourselves. We are in the time when stability is an exception and change the rule. To make their presence felt in such overloaded information economies and the fast moving world libraries and librarians will have to represent themselves. In the attention economy presence of libraries in the society would not help them get the users. They need to make their presence felt as a significant channel in knowledge generation and dissemination process. To gain recognition they will have to move away from the traditional way the libraries functioned.

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