Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Striving Towards Redundancy

Every industry should strive to render itself redundant & unneeded.

Corollary: it is a sign of decadence when an industry exists merely to further itself.

I've thought this for awhile, but I'm writing about it because I recently stumbled across the PhoneGap Beliefs, Goals, & Philosophy, which features this gem:

The ultimate purpose of PhoneGap is to cease to exist.

PhoneGap is a web application framework meant to fill the "gap" between native applications, which have strong access to device APIs such as the camera & hard disk storage, & web applications that have less robust support. Thus when PhoneGap ceases to exist it will be because one can build a perfectly functional native application with web technologies.

Librarianship & Its Guardians

The ultimate purposes of librarianship should be to cease to exist. What would this look like? Knowledge sharing & access are distributed across the community. There is no need to select books & store them, to maintain public computers & to teach computing classes, because the public collectively takes on these tasks. There may be a library facility—though it isn't called a library anymore—to house materials, but ultimately the community maintains & uses the resources without needing specialists to assist them.

Does that sound utopian or simply impossible? That's our job security, & it's not a good thing.

I think there are many in librarianship who have lost their way, who strive to maintain the profession over its goals. They clamor about the innate value of certain forms (books, name the most prominent & at-risk ones) without thinking about the purposes of those forms & how they might otherwise be fulfilled.

Then again, I see other signs that librarians are striving towards redundancy. Two fairly recent (though despite my grandiose pronouncements, I'm new to librarianship so I can't claim to know if these are current fads or centuries-old staples) developments are the emphasis on user experience & the move to creation over curation. In user experience for instance, one seeks to reduce friction, not just of navigating web sites, but in every interaction. Then there are some who believe that finding information should be hard, who pour their efforts into developing the most hideous federated search contraptions, contraptions that spew out more results than any dozen human minds could process; a librarian's dream & a user's nightmare. But now there are counterpoints, slowly compiling data & test results, slowly tossing aside the rubble to make the diamonds more visible.

Elsewhere, we see warning signs of decadent industries everywhere. Record labels have largely ceased to be necessary; Bandcamp will annihilate them because musicians, producers, & discovery engines are all that is needed. There's little room for business executives in there. & perhaps closer to home, there are the great publishing monoliths, who are also going to die out but only after trying to force outmoded business models down the consumers' throats. TV, too, will die. Why should I buy cable when I have the web? & why does my ISP try to sell me a landline? When you begin to think of just how many companies (AOL is a shining example) rely on Cro-Magnon consumer behaviors, libraries look quite safe.

Closing Mantra

Disintermediation is the end goal, not an obstacle. When everyone has access to the information & skills of librarianship there will be no need for librarians.