DannyQuah

Making large things visible to the human eye

Monthly Archives: October 2006

Conan the Librarian


Last week Monday 16 October 2006 I got to give a keynote speech to Internet Librarian International. For those librarians who had just that weekend travelled east to get to London, 9am Monday morning must have been brutal. Still, 350 librarians did appear in that one conference room, all together.

Thanks to Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, I had already cottoned on to how librarians were no longer who I once thought they were. But I figured they still must have all heard every possible Conan the Librarian joke by now. So instead we talked economics, the demand and supply of knowledge, Open Access, and the Digital Divide. Or, put differently, intellectual property rights and global markets for information. Well, one global market anyway.

([2006.11.20 update] Richard Poynder has, since the ILI Conference, provided on his blog a thoughtful response to my talk, in yet another article of his, full of insights and ideas.)

It’s just a metaphor!

I missed a September posting on this blog. On the other hand, being Head of Department lets me indulge in talking to large groups in other ways. For instance, I got to address the entering class of BSc Econ students at the LSE. 28 September 2006. So maybe that talk will have to do instead.

Speaking to these cosmopolitan students got me thinking about textbooks that, optimistically, label themselves International Edition, yet still use examples like consuming lobster at a New England clambake. These students of ours have munched fried silkworm while walking down Wangfujing in Beijing. They’ve come in from homes on windswept, treeless plains outside Ulanbataar; or they regularly shop Singapore’s Orchard Road and Shanghai’s Nanjing Road. They’ve bitten into black pudding, for breakfast both in an English cafe and with noodles in soup in a Far East Asian open-air foodcourt. Why does anyone think a New England clambake would hold any resonance for them? But then again why would it hold any resonance even for someone biting into corndog at a Minnesota state fair?

Maybe that was OK when the whole world watched CNN and MTV together. But no one does anymore. They’re too busy looking at 180-second segments of amateur content on YouTube or MySpace, generated by relatively random people from over 130 countries around the world.

Oh, and yes, to the parents of these LSE kids: Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll is just a metaphor. Like when someone has 243 friends on LSE’s Facebook? They are really working hard at school, and not hanging out with 243 people the entire time. Chill.

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