Monday, August 30, 2010

Power of Pull and liberal education

I read through most of The Power of Pull (Economist review) earlier this summer and have been thinking through the implications of the book's ideas for higher ed and libraries. The book contrasts the old way of doing business or getting where an agenda is "pushed" down from above to "pull", which the authors define as “the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address opportunities and challenges.”

The idea is that in today's network world, innovation can happen much more quickly when people at the cutting edge of a field collaborate with others that share their same passions.

In one sense, this book is advocating that business innovation happen more like innovation in the academy: sharing knowledge is the way. On the other hand, they are very critical of education that is programmed or 'pushed' from above.

The book also emphasizes the importance of geography and the serendipitous encounters that can happen with those in close proximity. Even in this networked world, they argue that living among those with similar passions is highly beneficial. Perhaps the intellectual connections and community of the liberal arts campus can model this phenomenon. The authors argue that networked technology can enrich our connections to people in a certain place: one might maintain meaningful connections in a handful of cities and better coordinate in-person meet-ups with mobile tech.

They argue that "knowledge flows" have overtaken "knowledge stocks" in importance. Big repositories of knowledge don't give a business (or perhaps a university) a major advantage anymore. It's having access to the knowledge flowing at the cutting edge that really enables innovation. They emphasize the importance of transferring tacit knowledge between individuals at the edge of a field. Another argument for the opportunities that the liberal arts provide for close encounters with experts in a field. At a presentation the other day at the Lewis & Clark Fall Retreat on faculty/student research, a biologist said that once a student begins working at the cutting edge of knowledge, a switch is flipped and their passion for learning changes in a dramatic way.

Towards the end of the book, they talk a lot about "shaping strategies" and "shaping platforms": Shaping strategies being a way of moving an entire industry or community to a new model, and the platform being some system put in place to do so. In the library context, this made me think that a big platform like WorldCat could have a bolder shaping aspiration behind it. Project Bamboo seems like an attempt at a shaping platform.

I was excited to see that one of the book's authors, John Seely Brown, is a NITLE fellow. Thanks to Lorcan Dempsey for pointing this book out at an Orbis Cascade presentation in July (see also his blog post on the book).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jim Kopp

As some of you may have heard, my boss at Lewis & Clark, Jim Kopp died August 5th after a struggle with a rare and complex medical condition. Jim was a big part of my life over the last decade, bringing me over to Portland from Bend to work at Lewis & Clark in 2001. As a boss and mentor, he gave me the support, freedom, and encouragement to grow in my career.

One of a now nearly extinct breed of librarian/scholars, Jim had a restless sort of ambition and an appetite for new challenges. He worked at the libraries of Columbia, Washington State, University of Portland, and the NLM; he was a VP at a startup library automation company, a head of a library consortium, and finally, a liberal arts college library director. A librarian, technologist, historian, and book collector, Jim's eclecticism in a way suited him perfectly for the liberal arts. He was never totally content where he was, however, and perhaps the utopian in him always kept his eyes open for greener pastures.

Like me, Jim cut his teeth in the library world as a technologist. He was of an earlier generation of systems librarians than me and by the time he brought me on staff this aspect of his career was done. What he retained from it was an ability to recognized innovative work and find ways of supporting it, and Jim did this in many areas of the library including those affiliated with technology.

As a manager, Jim understood something that I'm just coming to understand: your top priority to create the support system needed for your employees to perform in their positions. Jim was a hands off manager but he made sure that everyone on his team had the resources needed to do their jobs. He cared about his employees as people and understood that doing so was not only right, it also made for a stronger organization. Watzek's excellence owes much to Jim's wisdom here.

If you worked with Jim, you got to know his affection for writing. He favored longish memoranda written in a learned sort of prose. Even when writing something like a performance evaluation, Jim wrote elegantly and played with words. He was also a smart ass and often had fun lampooning those absurd obstacles and circumstances that would sometimes frustrate our work at Watzek.

I still can't believe Jim is gone. On any given day, I feel like I'll turn the corner in the library and see him or that an email will come through from him somewhere in the ether. Though he lived a full, rich life, I believe that he still had much work left to do in this world.

I will miss him.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

digital projects from class

Just wanted to share the excellent student projects from the Digital Initiatives class that I taught for Emporia State University this summer. Working in groups, students were asked to identify and organize a set of digital assets in a way that created some new value.

In particular I would note that the 'Amusing Atheneaum' project made very creative use of the Blogger platform and the 'Artistic Reflections on Deepwater Horizon' project took an ambitious approach to collecting digital objects around a contemporary theme using Omeka. Enjoy!