Unpacking my Lecture – A blog post about session 1 of ‘Libraries and Publishing in the Information Society’ – module #INM380 at #citylis

It was posited during this lecture that libraries are in the throes of a mid-life crisis. This is something that could be a rather positive evaluation in that it suggests millennia of existence lie ahead for the library, however difficult the present moment is.

The publishing industry could also be said to be in crisis, certainly in the original sense that it is at a turning point that will either result in recovery or death.

This module looks set to be an examination of how developing technologies have brought (and will bring) about changes in the way that written information is curated, edited, paid for and disseminated. And the key factor is the role that libraries can play in forming the new order, if whatever follows can be described as orderly.

Certainly, the last ten years have seen it become much easier for someone to find information or to publish something they have written (this blog post being a perfect example). Presentations made at The Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers international conference 2013 showed industry insiders acknowledging this but also confident that corporate publishing had a future. After all – and it looks as if this will also be a key theme throughout the course – context is very important to people in deciding what to read. The authenticity and authority a piece of writing is given by its being edited and published by a commercial publisher is something that carries a lot of value, and this is not likely to change in an information society that bombards its citizens from all directions with more and more stuff to read.

We also discussed Walter Benjamin’s 1934 lecture to the Institute for the Study of Fascism in Paris, ‘The Author as Producer’, in which he examines the complex political and technological relations between a writer, his/her writings, and the political significance of the medium by which they are disseminated. It is difficult to distill the concepts from the black and white politics of the time, but I think that Benjamin would be very interested in how technology today (albeit largely in the hands of a few opaque commercial entities) has massively disrupted the conventional commercial model of publishing, whether of news, literature, music, or research. Capitalism does seem to be bringing about a democratic order in which the customer is king. So, at least as long as you have money to spend, you matter. One more reason, then, for public libraries to fight for their right to exist.

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