Librarian: Before and after Calibre

There are a very few expert fields where software tools didn’t become the essential part of their craft and workflows1. The adoption of software binds together, as Nathan Ensmenger2 writes, “mach­ines, people, and processes in an inextricably interconnected and interdependent system” which never goes without “conflict, negotiation, disputes over professional authority, and the conflation of social, political, and technological agendas. Software is perhaps the ultimate heterogeneous technology. It exists simultaneously as an idea, language, technology, and practice.”

When tips & tricks of trade get embedded into the drop-down menus it’s the time for the experts to move on, full steam ahead: design after Photoshop; journalism after WordPress; advertisement after AdWords; photography after Instagram. The same goes for the institutions when they start to interact, overlap or just use the digital networks. They need to restructure itself in order to accommodate new procedures, flows of information, social relations, institutional memory, monitoring, control, and demand to understand the new system (they became) as a whole.3

The processing of information is usually distributed between two sides: some processing is done on a server, the rest on a client 4, some processing is done by a computer, the rest is processed by a human operator5, and sometimes searching for the right book is done by the catalog and the rest of the context is delivered by librarian. This asymmetry between sides of computation will make the difference of efficiency or failure, of power struggle or fruitful collaboration, and of universal access to knowledge or enclosure.

When the right balance is found in between how complex user interface will be, how much intelligence one expects from its users and how many conventions a user community can follow: the world can get Wikipedia. Wikipedia didn’t go for complex text editor, didn’t ask for complicated logins. They were brave enough to expect that users will know how to structure information with simple formatting syntax. And here we are: Wikipedia, the greatest encyclopedia ever written.

The future public library needs to restructure itself in order to accommodate new procedures, flows of information, social relations, institutional memory, monitoring, control, and demand to understand the new public library (it became) as whole. Book lovers, avid readers, and brave researchers, learning from Wikipedia, shouldn’t give up and let the other side to control the catalog because with enough of amateur librarians the future public library will appear. When everyone is librarian, library is everywhere. 6


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workflow
  2. Ensmenger, Nathan. The Computer Boys Take over : Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 2010.
  3. Gardner, Edwin, and Mars Marcell. “Tracing Concepts”, Issue 28, Volume. Amsterdam: Archis Publishers, 2011.
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Client%E2%80%93server_model
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human%E2%80%93computer_interaction
  6. End-to-end catalog