Why can’t it be nebulous?

Each of the definitions of a digital library that we read this week made mention of the data in the DL and the agency that created the DL. The emphasis on how it’s created or what the structure should be or how open it should be is dependent on the author’s purpose. The spectrum of agencies creating DLs, their fields of interest, and the types of data that they’re interested in change the emphasis of the definition in order to suit their needs. Borgman’s article sets this out fairly succinctly, but it’s evident in the rest of the reading too. Twidale and Nichols’ chapter is a great example. They focus on the setup of the DL rather than retrieval of information or an attempt to understanding the audience or the purpose of the library. Since the chapter is for potential librarians, this makes sense, but may cause slight myopia on the topic for those students. Having multiple definitions is a good tactic if we’re interesting in defining the different facets of DLs, but without opening ourselves up to the definitions set out by other fields, we won’t be able to write one specific overarching definition.

Borgman really wants to have specific, citable definition for a DL. I preferred Levy’s article; he articulated, far better than I can, that if we attempt to pin this definition down too forcefully, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. With DLs we’re attempting to create an experience that allows an audience to retrieve and use information, while also preserving and hosting data that may or may not currently be needed. The ever-changing face of the audience and the data makes this a difficult enough task. Trying to include a concrete definition that serves all fields of study may not be the most pressing issue here.


3 responses to “Why can’t it be nebulous?

  1. I am in total agreement with you that many practical problems take presence over theoretical debates about the definition of terms. I liked the Levy article as well, I was amused at the number of historical definitions of librarianship that fell into the dustbin of history as our patrons refused to conform to librarian expectations concerning the purpose of libraries.

    Another reason, I don’t find the definition debate productive is that digital librarianship, like analog librarianship is a service industry, and in the absence of any defined user group the abstract definition of librarianship or digital librarianship isn’t going to mean much.

  2. I agree. Due to the relative newness of DL’s, and the broad spectrum of both information and the way that is housed makes coming up with an ever-reaching definition difficult, especially since we’re not sure what a new round of technology might do for digital librarians.
    However, reading these articles from a special librarian’s perspective, I think that the reason librarian’s would like to define what a DL is, is so that not everyone who maintains files, pictures, etc, would consider themselves a digital librarian. We see that even now, the roles people play in managing information leads them to different conclusions on how to define digital libraries (computer scientists vs. librarians in Levy’s article; programmer vs. librarian in Nichols&Twidale’s article; etc).
    As a something “traditional” aspiring digital librarian, I tend to focus more on the user and getting/making accessible materials that would be most useful and helpful for them.
    Thanks for your thoughts, such an interesting topic!

  3. But does it matter if you can’t technically define yourself as a digital librarian? With the range of institutions out there trying to promote and create DLs, can we really tie ourselves to one definition? Different fields and different audiences require different services and structures and metadata and UIs. Is librarian as a label really that important?

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