Needs, wants and expertise

I came across Frank Kermode's 1995 obituary of JB Trapp, scholar and librarian of the Warburg Institute before becoming its director, recently, while looking for something else. I have bolded some phrases which seem to me to be a quite nice statement of purpose.

The library of the institute, as arranged by founder Aby Warburg, was intended to obey what he called "the law of the good neighbour". He believed that it must provide its users not with the books they were looking for, but with the books that they needed, without necessarily having prior knowledge of them. As librarian, Trapp made this quixotic pursuit quite rational; he knew where everything was and led one to it with the speed and penetration of the rugby player he had once been. [JB Trapp | Obituaries | guardian.co.uk]

I was reminded of a note I did a while ago about personal knowledge of collections and readers, and of some parallels with modern recommender systems. It seems to me that one of the major challenges libraries have over the next while relates to how they manifest expertise in their online services and presence, how the system emulates the "good neighbour" or knowledgeable library colleague.

I worked many years ago in public libraries in Dublin, at a time, I reluctantly acknowledge, when circulation systems were manual. I remember admiring the knowledge of those who had worked for a long time in branches, knowledge of their stock and knowledge of their readers. It seemed to me that they best understood the secret lives of books, as represented by the people who read them. The very best understood as well the secret lives of their readers, as represented by the books they read. They could make the types of connections that we are now seeing automated as 'intentional data' is collected and mined, in social networking sites, and in recommender systems. [Lorcan Dempsey's weblog: What the reader intends ...]

Worldcat Identities:

Frank Kermode
JB Trapp
Warburg Institute
Warburg Institute Library
Dublin City Public Libraries


Comments: 1

Mar 10, 2009
Chris Rusbridge

Lorcan, you reminded me so poignantly of the fortnightly travelling library from my youth in the depths of rural Somerset, and the piles of 20+ books the Librarian would have saved for me with a twinkle in the eye: "you will enjoy these...".

Prediction or command?

She certainly did a lot for the breadth of my education!