May 15, 2004 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on May 15, 2004.
Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France
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"Education Convergence"... for teaching physical geology, or anything else, to anyone, all over the globe... 3 ingredients:
1) Online Reference Service
For an interesting new example of online reference service:
* Guichet du Savoir -- Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon
"You have a question? We have the answer!
"What questions? All, on any subject!
"Who replies? Library professionals!
"How soon? Maximum 72 hours!
"How much? It's free, and open to all!"
"And Online Chat: 1-6pm -- Wednesdays and Saturdays!"
-- a leading library in France -- its new online digital reference service...
Online Digital Reference service itself is not a new idea. Since the early 1990s, librarians on econferences such as BIBLIO-FR and PACS-L have described projects to offer reference service via email. With the general development of Digital Libraries, these projects have turned into sophisticated and successful document delivery and research efforts, at many institutions.
Descriptions of this online digital reference service history abound, on the Nets. Bernie Sloan's is the leading compilation:
* Bernie Sloan's Digital Reference Pages
* Digital Reference Services Bibliography
Along the way, several fundamental operational problems have been dealt with by different institutions in different ways: for example --
To these "fundamental four" many other problems posed by online digital reference service might be added. Complete lists might best be compiled by mining through Bernie Sloan's entries, mentioned above. Online reference service efforts nevertheless are increasing: as so they should, as they offer answers to many of the fundamental questions now being asked about both library service generally and about the future of digital information.
Digital information has grown, as predicted, to the point where "information overload" has become a problem for all of us: and even well past that point, for many of us -- as The Police put it in their song, now a long time ago,
Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane
And as the users increasingly need help, so do the librarians. The quest for a role in the new digital information world has been answered in the generality by the Digital Library concept. But so far this is just a concept: in execution, the digital library idea has taken such a variety of approaches as still to be undefinable -- some things that are "digital" have become "libraries", and some things that are "libraries" have become "digital", but beyond that there is not much common ground, yet.
Whatever form or forms the future Digital Library will take, however, it seems that there will be room of some sort in it for Online Reference Service: that is what "librarians" will be doing, in large part, in the coming years -- not all librarians, but hopefully a lot of them, and at any rate more than are now.
At the BM Lyon, for example, their Online Reference Service model is a sophisticated one:
* "What questions?"
"You may pose any question of a documentary nature or relative to a request for information or an item of information. We will deliver precise replies to you or offer you avenues of research which really will work.
"Of course, we cannot do your schoolwork or research for you, much less offer medical or legal consultations to you. And we can't help you out on a quiz-show contest! But in all cases the best avenues for your own research at least will be suggested.
"Questions about the library or about your own library records should be addressed to the library's public service desk... The more precise your question can be, the more satisfying to you will be our reply. And please let us know the context of your question." [all tr. JK]
[The BM Lyon appears to have anticipated the general online digital reference pitfalls outlined above. Their considerable experience in reference must have taught them, above all, to "get the users to hone down the question".]
* "Who replies? Library professionals!"
"Only the professional librarians themselves, of the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, will be responding to you..."
[France has the same problem which the US and other places do, now, in the de-professionalization of many positions: there, too, student aides and part-timers and other non-professionals increasingly perform many library functions, including "answering the fones..." So this is a "quality assurance": that in fact this Online Digital Reference service is going to be taken seriously, by the BMLyon, and that real professionals will be putting their minds and training and experience to work on a user's question.]
* "How soon?"
"As soon as you send your question, the library professionals will embark on replying to you within three days maximum. You will be sent the reply to your question via email."
[The nub of the operational challenge, for the service: how to manage the workflow smoothly, internally -- so that followup in fact takes place, and so that backlogs do not build...]
* "How much? It's free, and open to all!"
"It is not necessary to be a cardholder of the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, nor to live in any particular geographic locality..."
[This is at once the greatest challenge and the greatest promise, perhaps, of this new service... The BMLyon has a unique mandate, among libraries, in that there are few equivalents to a French "bibliothèque municipale" to be found elsewhere in the world: a "city library" with enormous, and rich, and very ancient collections -- but one also offering public lending, and children's services, and branch libraries and other outreach.
Other nations have national libraries, similar in intent to the Bibliothèque Nationale in France, and others have magnificent "rare book" collections and "public library" institutions as well. But few have many libraries which combine all of these functions, and few are so well-endowed as is the BMLyon.
This said, every place has its limits: the Internet can put people in Tasmania in touch, now, with the BMLyon librarians -- who protest that they can handle inquiries in languages other than their own -- assuming that the BMLyon can do this, then, this effort could be the beginning of a major initiative in purveying the riches of "la francophonie" to the world... and it is to some extent a grand experiment in the multi-cultural and even the trans-national (see more below)...]
* "And Online Chat: 1-6pm -- Wednesdays and Saturdays!"
"Open from April 7, to gather in your questions and give you information, a supplement to the general service... And, since April 3 and the Fête de l'Internet, the BM Lyon has opened an Information Mega-Chat, from 10am to 6-pm, so now you can talk direct to all of the library professionals."
[I happen to be active on The WELL / the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link: that was one of the first Internet "forum" structures (1985), and it still is operating very efficiently. Now in our US Presidential election year, this year, all of the candidates' campaigns are trying out "forum" and "blog" and "chat" and other forms of digital groupings and communication structures.
And I am a fan, of the "forum" format, as this usually is organized around topics of common interest: to discipline the terrible "topic drift" which distracts and ultimately destroys "blog" and "chat" and other less-focussed digital techniques. People are busy: they do not all have time to "blog" and "chat".
A fan of Listserv econferences too, for this same reason: I still am on PACS-L and Exlibris and of course BIBLIO-FR, and a few others. The discipline exerted by their "topic" orientation, and by a good "moderator", can be absolute necessities.
Interesting as well the combination of the two: this way the BM Lyon will reach both the users who have "random minds" -- who generate their best ideas through "chatting", digitally or otherwise -- and the users who have "specific questions", the savants out there.
This is, sort of, the "browsing" versus "known item" distinction in information science...]
So the BMLyon has the right idea here, I believe: online digital reference service, structured but apparently flexible enough, so far, to embrace alternative communications approaches as varied as the web and email and chat and structured "forum" econferencing. Resources for users / outreach for librarians.
2) Online Texts
Now for a fascinating new example of online text presentation, see:
Dynamic Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology
Brian J. Skinner, Yale University
Stephen C. Porter, University of Washington
Jeffrey Park, Yale University
ISBN 0-471-15228-5; Fifth Edition, (Wiley, ©2004)
-- particularly its Instructor Companion Site and Student Companion Site --
This is the latest edition of one of the leading texts in earth science / earth systems science / physical geology, in use all over the US -- and a Website, hosted by the book's publisher, offering extensive online digital materials supplementing, reinforcing, and extending the message of the printed text.
Professor Skinner and his team offer online now, to student readers of the famous "physical geology" text -- in fact now to any readers, anywhere... --
-- and instructors even may obtain online, in addition, from their own password-protected "instructors' site" so that they actually may use these in class --
** And both of these -- the new site offering online reference service, which happens to be in France, and the new site offering this online text, which happens to be in the US -- now can be reached from anywhere...
** So now, for a moment, consider the impact upon education of a combination of the two...
3) Online Instruction
And, in further addition, interesting new examples of online instruction: there is a rapidly-expanding global market in online distance education emerging now, as well -- for instance, from a consortium of Oxford & Stanford & Yale --
"AllLearn offers over fifty online courses from Oxford, Stanford, and Yale Universities. Courses are available to anyone -- anywhere and at any time. Expert online instructors help you to explore fully the readings and lectures and share in lively discussions with your classmates..."
and from MIT --
"Welcome to MIT's OpenCourseWare: a free and open educational resource for faculty, students, and self - learners around the world. OCW supports MIT's mission to advance knowledge and education, and serve the world in the 21st century. It is true to MIT's values of excellence, innovation, and leadership. With the publication of 700 courses, MIT OCW offers educational materials from 33 academic disciplines and all five of MIT's schools..."
and from newer institutions --
"At University of Phoenix, you can earn your bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree any way you want to -- on campus, online, or in certain areas using a combination of both... University of Phoenix has grown to be the nation's largest private university, specializing in the education of working adults by offering degree programs that are highly relevant, accessible, and efficient. With over 100 campuses and learning centers in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and via the Internet, you can complete your degree no matter where you live, what hours you work, or how often you travel or relocate..."
and older "distance education" / "lifelong learning" pioneers --
"The Open University admitted its first students in 1971. It is the UK's largest university, with over 200,000 students and customers. Courses are available throughout Europe and, usually by means of partnership agreements with other institutions, in many other parts of the world. About 26,000 learners are studying OU courses outside the UK..."
4) Combinations... and a role for librarians(?)...
The Distance Education boat is leaving port, I believe, and my only question is whether any librarians will be on it...
As the world "globalizes", and as its industrial structure fundamentally changes, one clearly-emerging common thread is the growing need for "continuing education" and "lifelong learning".
-- all of this very much to be conducted "at a distance" -- at, more generally, the convenience of the paying student rather than of the instructor or institution... just as "universities" were designed originally, back in the European middle ages... the "customer" perhaps once again is to be "king", in education...
There is less and less room, any longer, for the rigidities of 19th and 20th century static and tiered education, a process which "begins" at one point and very firmly "ends" at another.
In a high-turnover and very insecure new jobseeking world, then -- one in which positions terminate every two years, and entire fields and personal careers may "flip" several times during an individual's lifetime -- "continuing education" has become one of our postmodern workforce necessities. And if our populations all are "ageing", then until our societies decide to provide better for those "aged", that education had better be "lifelong", too...
In this new paradigm there ought to be room for librarians. The vast online and other information resources -- of online global classrooms such as those offered now by the Alliance for Lifelong Learning, or of digital texts such as that of Professor Skinner's in physical geology, both of which now can be reached from anywhere via a simple mouseclick -- are certainly no less confusing to users than were the printed book information systems for which the older librarianship was designed. The digital world needs information mediators and moderators and navigators, too.
Let these be services such as the BM Lyon's new Guichet de Savoir, then: online digital reference service, like this, needs to be propagated widely, and expanded greatly -- integrated, with the online texts and online classes offered in the new distance learning trends.
I would anticipate, for example, increasing coordination and even full integration of the three emerging worlds: of the BM Lyon's Guichet de Savoir, and Professor Skinner's Physical Geology, and the Alliance for Lifelong Learning's course offerings -- Online Reference Service, and Online Texts, and Online Instruction -- as these three digital worlds continue to evolve, and become more aware of one another.
The student, in Hobart Tasmania or Akademgorodok Russia or wherever, needs access: to her teachers, to her texts, to her librarians.
Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
ps. Interestingly this activity is trans-national:
Transnational relations and world politics.
Edited by Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
(Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 1972.)
-- independent, somewhat already and definitely increasingly, of the "nation-states" which make so many of the negative headlines which most of us read nowadays. In a click 'n educate world, the nationality of students and instructors and resources need not have the ties, perhaps, to traditional nation-states and politics from which traditional education so often suffers.
In terms of digital access, at least, online distance education can reach, and be reached by, any student wherever located. Intellectual and financial access may pose difficulties, as might the quality and even nature of course content. The provision of the education as a transnational service might, as well: although one would hope that nowadays the education of anyone, anywhere, would be in the collective interests of all of us on the planet.
But these are questions deserving current research. The current providers are experimenting with them. At least students -- any, anywhere -- now have resources online from which they can learn, about such questions as well as others. And now they always can ask their online reference librarians...
FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071-5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic | journal published since 1992 as a small-scale, | personal experiment, in the creation of large- | scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. / \ Any material written by me which appears in ----- FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for // \\ any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me --------- credit and show my email address, and, b) it // \\ isn't going to make them money: if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives may be found at http://infolib.berkeley.edu (search fyifrance), or http://email@example.com/ (BIBLIO-FR archive), or http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html (PACS-L archive) or http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all will be gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org . Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved except as indicated above.
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