Why you’re going to hate LISinfo, at least at first.

19 February 2008 | Brett | Philosophy | 1 Comment

Library catalogs are generally inventories of media types: “Hello, patron, this is our book catalog.” Of course, these days what we actually say is something more along the lines of, “This is our book catalog, into which we’ve shoehorned some audio or video recordings… and, oh yes, you can find information on serials, as long as you don’t want information about the articles that actually appear within the serials.”

To do proper research in a particular area, you have to look in lots of places. In general, these places are organized by media type, not by information domain. That’s why we copy each other’s create subject guides, and its even how we organize our subject guides: look here for books that cover this information domain, look here and here and here and here and here and here and here for articles, and look here for databases, and look here for news, etc.

So far, we’ve managed to extended this sort of thinking to the web: go here if you want to find information on conferences, go here if you want to find blogs, look here and here and here if you want information on journals (and god help you if you want to do a comprehensive literature review).

LISinfo will catalog an information domain rather than a media type or types. It will allow us to dig deeply into any area of LIS quickly, easily, and comprehensively. Want to know everything about Philadelphia, or some aspect of Philadelphia, as it relates to LIS? Want to know everything that’s been written on a subtopic within LIS that you find interesting? We’ll have it. Not immediately, but sooner than you think.

So you hate the idea. Or think you’ve seen it in a million other places in a million other forms. Or think it sounds nice but can’t possibly work. And you most certainly won’t be impressed with the first version of LISinfo. Apparently, these are the reactions that Paul Graham always gets as well. As he wrote recently in “Six Principles for Making New Things“:

I like to find (a) simple solutions (b) to overlooked problems (c) that actually need to be solved, and (d) deliver them as informally as possible, (e) starting with a very crude version 1, then (f) iterating rapidly.

When I first laid out these principles explicitly, I noticed something striking: this is practically a recipe for generating a contemptuous initial reaction. Though simple solutions are better, they don’t seem as impressive as complex ones. Overlooked problems are by definition problems that most people think don’t matter. Delivering solutions in an informal way means that instead of judging something by the way it’s presented, people have to actually understand it, which is more work. And starting with a crude version 1 means your initial effort is always small and incomplete.

At first, LISinfo will be small and incomplete and you’ll look at it and think we’ve been wasting our time developing a solution to something that no one sees as a problem. On top of that, we seem to be depending on the kindness of strangers to populate and maintain LISinfo’s database.

Of course, the database isn’t LISinfo’s or ours, it’s everyone’s. And those strangers will soon realize that their work isn’t merely altruistic. Before long, once the data is there, LISinfo will be incredibly useful to those of us in the LIS field. And then it will be up to all of us to share the idea of the information domain catalog with people in other fields.

Really, it’s a simple idea. Simple enough, we hope, that we can’t mess it up.

1 Comment

  1. Eric Nord said on 31 Jul 2012 at 2:37 pm:

    I like to find
    (a) simple solutions = low implementation cost
    (b) to overlooked problems = common annoyances of the target population
    (c) that actually need to be solved, = people will perceive as valuable
    d) deliver them as informally as possible = delivered with usability in mind
    (e) starting with a very crude version = protoype with friends
    (f) iterating rapidly = rapid development

    Follow this and you’ll find huge success. I’ve built up IT companies, inventory systems, and employees using these simple principles. But don’t take my word for it – http://www.trello.com has an insteresting backstory.

    Let’s build something useful enough that others can’t not use it.

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