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The Identity of the Contemporary Public Library

 | 
Margarita Pérez Pulido
, 
Maurizio Vivarelli

3. Complexity Challenges

Towards a Critique of the Concept of Model in Library Science

Alberto Salarelli
Traduction de Alex Gillan

Texte intégral

1. From “schemata” to models

  • 1 1 Joseph Licklider, Libraries of the Future, Cambridge (Mass.), MIT Press, 1965, p.4.
  • 2  Ivi, p. 6.

1Exactly fifty years ago, in 1965, Joseph Licklider published a study for MIT Press entitled Libraries of the Future, the outcome of a project commissioned from him by the Council on Library Resources, which saw him occupied for two years on the revolution in information processes brought about by digital technology and, more specifically, on the modifications that libraries would undergo as a consequence of using these systems in carrying out their activities. Licklider, a luminary of extraordinary eclectic intelligence, able to range from his original field of study – psychology – towards the as-yet undefined domain of information science, was convinced that in a not too close future (the prospective deadline was the fateful year two thousand) libraries would have to totally rethink their practices of storage, organisation and retrieval of information in the light of the possibilities offered by digital systems, systems that could suggest a brand new proactivity in the relationship between humans and documents with respect to the rigid passivity of the printed page and the bulky management of library legacies: «if human interaction with the body of knowledge is conceived of as a dynamic process involving repeated examinations and intercomparisons of very many small and scattered parts, then any concept of a library that begins with books on shelves is sure to encounter trouble»1. For this reason, Licklider’s vision – and “Lick” – really a man of great vision if we think of the fundamental role his thinking has had in developing human-machine interfaces and the Internet – suggested a radical rethinking of the approach to managing information not in opposition to the fundamental library function of intermediation but, instead, emphasizing it in virtue of digital technologies’ heuristic potential. This inevitable palingenesis was, according to the scholar, so potent that it would even call into doubt the chance of calling libraries by that name, in the future: the locution “precognitive systems”, in his opinion, would better signify what he had in mind and what, to tell the truth, he had been reflecting on for many years: in short, the idea of a “thinking centre” where digital information would initially exist alongside analogue versions, to then gradually replace it in a process of total dematerialization of document-style supports: «to transmit information without transporting material»2.

  • 3  In Italy, some interesting reflections on the contribution of Licklider’s legacy have been express (...)
  • 4  Cfr. Joseph Walsh, The Psychological Person: Cognition, Emotion and Self, in: Elizabeth D. Hutchis (...)

2Half a century after that study, everyone can weigh things up for themselves by placing on one dish of the scales what part of that prophecy came true and what did not, which dynamics Licklider intuited, at least in a nutshell and, instead, which materials and activities have lasted longer than predicted3. However, beyond the fact that the famous quip attributed to Niels Bohr – «prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future» – does contain a grain of truth, it is interesting to observe how this prophecy was expressed and argued. To conceive the library of the future, Licklider uses terminology adapted from the theory of knowledge, and in particular, from the works of Jean Piaget4, placing particular attention on the concept of ‘schema’ (plur. ‘schemata’). According to the reflections of the Swiss psychologist, schema should be considered a system of conceptual clusters useful in building an interior representation of the world, a representation that is built by each individual by re-elaborating and organizing what arrives from the outside precisely through these schemata that are not innate, but are produced and transformed based on past experiences. They are interrelated according to a hierarchical logic in which can be identified and singled out high-level schemata (corresponding to the systematic organization of the mind) and low-level ones (related to single concepts). Therefore, each approach to reality is based on a twofold process of assimilation and accommodation of the cognitive structure in order to reach an interpretation that can explain the world we live in and the interaction we establish with it and the creatures that inhabit it.

3Shifting his reasoning onto the library science plane, Licklider maintained that a plausible vision for the library of the future need not be hypothesized by eliminating low-level concepts (“component-level schemata”) but by using these as the building blocks of an edifice with totally innovative characteristics, corresponding to “upper-echelon schemata”.

  • 5  An empirical test on the use of this terminology can be made, for example, through Google Books Ng (...)

4Thus, this constructionist hypothesis focuses its attention on the information-giving potential of documents with a view to surpassing the physical limitations imposed by a book as an object and by the library as a repository, towards a digital perspective with features surprisingly similar to what we now practise daily. If anything, if we wished to pick out a weak point in Licklider’s viewpoint, we should instead consider how this massive imposition of digitalized information and electronic communication services has not led to an annihilation of the analogue physiognomy of books and libraries whose bulky “passiveness”, so scorned by Licklider, continues to represent an integral part of contemporary library science that is still immersed in a substantially hybrid dimension. To recap, some might consider this simultaneous presence of analogue and digital information as a caducous phase in the history of the document systems created by humans, while others would have fun demonstrating, books and bricks in hand, that it will be no easy task to carry out indiscriminate scrapping. One thing is certain, however: if Licklider’s thoughts on the future of libraries is still a harbinger of food for thought, the terminology he used to express his vision has met a process of obsolescence that seems irreversible. At an international level, contemporary library science literature has completely given up the terms “schema/schemata” in favour of widespread use of the term “model”: i.e. every time (for at least the last thirty years) a turning point has been reached in the evolution of library systems, to reason on the libraries of the future, the preference has been to speak of “new library models”. Also as regards library science’s specific reflections on public libraries, i.e. those institutions most needing an overall redefinition of their functions, there is no departure from this evidence: the presence in the scientific literature of articles or monographs dedicated to new models for public libraries is quantitatively impressive, with particular peaks of production in relation to the appearance of the Internet in the world of libraries, the crisis of the contemporary public library, and the advent of Web 2.0 systems5.

5Clearly, despite the obsolescence of the terminology used by Licklider, the idea that the present and future functioning of libraries can be effectively understood by turning to the “model” concept is a recurring trait in the most recent library science; therefore, given this, it is necessary to understand how this concept is used and, consequently, if it really does remain efficient as a tool of theoretical investigation.

6To do so, we must first ask ourselves what we mean by “model”.

2. What is a model?

  • 6Brian Derfer, Mental Models: How Do Our Minds Work? San Diego, University of California, 1995, <ht (...)
  • 7  Cfr. Lorenzo Schiavina, Metodi e strumenti per la modellizzazione aziendale. Come gestire il probl (...)

7In the sphere of cultural anthropology, speaking of schemata or models means saying the same thing, at the end of the day6. Therefore, right from the start, it can be stated that the transition from Licklider’s ‘schemata’ to library science’s more recent predilection for the ‘model’ concept would merely seem a stronger lexical fascination with the latter word, due, most likely, to the spread of operational research methods developed above all in the field of company management7.

  • 8Enciclopedia Garzanti di filosofia, Milano, Garzanti, 1993, s.v.

8Nonetheless, if we wish to try to expand the horizon around the model concept, in addition to the current variations being proposed in various fields of knowledge, it is necessary to identify the characteristics common to every type of model, characteristics that are generally shared in formulating generic definitions of this concept. Aware that this is a term with a broad polysemic spectrum that will be considered here only in the sense of a “scientific model”, it can be understood as «a more or less abstract construction that shares certain structural characteristics of the domain being modelled»8, or – in greater detail – as

A simplified or idealized description or conception of a particular system, situation, or process, often in mathematical terms, that is put forward as a basis for theoretical or empirical understanding, or for calculations, predictions, etc.; a conceptual or mental representation of something9.

  • 10  «It is precisely in the abstract nature of certain models with respect to others that a criterion (...)
  • 11  «We must remember that models represent constructions featuring a meaning that is more circumscrib (...)

9As can be seen, the salient characteristics of any model are in essence two: the fact of being simpler than the various real cases (i.e. ectypes) it refers to, and the abstract dimension it ends up in precisely because, through simplification, the references to the real world are reduced; references that are fundamental to describe a single case but limited when it comes to theorizing on an ideal type. In other words, it would seem that the level of abstraction of a model can be considered a measure of its scientific nature10: in fact, if it is true that every attempt to explain the world envisages recourse to determined categories of interpretation, it is equally obvious that scientific models are different from any generic modelling activity in virtue of their capacity to function as tools that are useful in formulating a corpus of organically structured knowledge11. Hence, a scientific explanation of the world cannot disregard models:

  • 12Arturo Rosenbluth – Norbert Wiener, The Role of Models in Science, «Philosophy of Science», 12, 19 (...)

No substantial part of the universe is so simple that it can be grasped and controlled without abstraction. Abstraction consists in replacing the part of the universe under consideration by a model of similar but simpler structure. Models, formal or intellectual on the one hand, or material on the other, are thus a central necessity of scientific procedure12.

  • 13Wilhelm Windelband, Storia e scienza della natura, in: Lo storicismo tedesco, a cura di Pietro Ros (...)

10Having reached this point, i.e. having established the general characteristics shared by all scientific models, it is opportune to note how these cannot all be placed on the same plane. If we take into consideration the distinction proposed at the end of the nineteenth century by Wilhelm Windelband between nomothetic sciences (which seek to formulate laws that are valid in every case) and idiographic sciences (which are interested in the event, i.e. they study phenomena that are unique and unrepeatable)13we can identify two corresponding families of models in use, respectively, in each of the two groupings:

  • Nomothetic Models, which serve to formulate hypotheses and laws based on logical procedures in which every passage must be explicit and verifiable. Since these are independent from the time variable, they can be applied equally to explain what has already happened and to forecast what is going to happen. These then are predictive models whose validity subsists until facts manifest that cannot be explained by them: in this case, according to the fallibilistic principle, it becomes necessary to modify or confute their constitutive traits in order to identify others that are more functional than the previous ones in formulating new hypotheses;
  • Idiographic Models, whose scope consists in the possibility of ordering and explaining phenomenic reality as it presents itself in a determined historical and social condition. However, given that these are models heavily restricted by multiple spatial and temporal incidents, they should not be seen as predictive since they are structurally incapable of anticipating the future towards which they turn with an attitude that is visionary, if anything.
  • 14  «It is still possible – and it really is true – that the same objects can be subjected to both nom (...)
  • 15  We are following the tripartition proposed by Maurizio Ferraris, Documentalità. Perché è necessari (...)

11This subdivision of a strictly methodological nature into nomothetic and idiographic models does not always imply a criterion of reciprocal exclusion when it comes to applying them: in fact, the relationship between a concrete situation and an epistemological investigation can necessitate the use of models from different families14. From this consideration, it follows that the more complex the experiential reality is, involving natural, ideal and social objects15, the more knowledge of it can be expressed on different planes examinable with different models, and this is because, as Prigogine and Stengers stated back in 1979,

  • 16Ilya Prigogine – Isabelle Stengers, La nuova alleanza. Metamorfosi della scienza, Torino, Einaudi, (...)

There is not one unique theoretical language to express the variables a well-defined value can be attributed, which can exhaust the physical content of a system. The various languages possible and the various points of view of the system are complementary. They concern the same reality, even if it is impossible to attribute one single description to them16.

12Considering all of this, a first set of problems might be the division of the objects under study into idiographic and nomothetic; a second one in the choice of suitable models of investigation and, lastly, a third one, examination of the results in order to define an overview that takes into account the complexity of the phenomenon being studied.

13In our opinion, the world of library science can be an excellent field of investigation in which to apply this challenge of complexity by checking whether and how different types of models can be applied in a suitable way, according to an analysis plan reviewed from time to time.

3. The model concept in library science

14First of all, let us ask ourselves why contemporary libraries are complex. The answer, which by now we can consider taken for granted, is that they currently find themselves carrying out their tasks in an increasingly complex world, as Giovanni Di Domenico already underlined a good many years ago:

  • 17Giovanni Di Domenico, Problemi e prospettive della biblioteconomia in Italia, «Bibliotime», 4, 200 (...)

We live in an era in which knowledge has become the dominant productive factor, in which the contents of work are dematerializing, in which attention is shifting from structures to people (to the subjects who bring sense to the life of organizations), in which complexity has completely changed and is making itself in some way impervious to systemic analysis17.

15If, then, the concept of complexity has become a real stylistic feature of our times, to the extent of feeling the need to dedicate a specific festival to it18, in the case of libraries it is necessary to reveal how – let us call it – “environmental complexity” has had significant effects not only on the concrete ways of organizing and providing services, but also in the epistemological processes of library science. In other words, the revolutions in techniques and methods in information management, globalization, the waning of great ideological paradigms, the economic crisis, the demographic explosion (at this point, the list could go on for ever) have attacked the theoretical foundations of a discipline that was already weak and insecure, and was searching perennially for an identity that was, if not solid, at least sufficiently stable: a “knowledge without grounds” as Roberto Ventura has defined it, «in the sense that albeit in the presence of substantial professional literature it is difficult to understand what is, and above all if there is, a profound nucleus that can carry out the function of a founding mould»19. In this panorama that some would define distressing but that, in our opinion, is instead particularly stimulating, one might be tempted to direct library science towards a cupio dissolvi in more epistemologically sound disciplines (but which?) or to end up acknowledging that the reflections of Prigogine and Stengers also apply to the world of libraries, which are interpretable in their complexity only if not one but many different languages are admitted, and not one frame of reference (be it bibliographical, institutional, or historical/social) but the concomitant application of several of these, in a stratified – and hence “complex” – reading of the phenomena proper to a library20. Therefore, there are phenomena that can be described and explained with models of a nomothetic nature, based on inductive methods, experimental practice, inferential reasoning and that, as we were saying, make it possible to formulate valid laws not only for the present but also for the future, as when we tackle the statics and dimensions of the building that houses a library by reason of the weight and volume of the library material, or when bibliometric indicators are used to calculate the development of the collections or, again, when assessing the economic benefits that the opening of a library might bring to a particular location. In all these cases, the models adopted are useful precisely in virtue of their capacity to forecast before acting, however it is equally obvious that they occupy a field of application that is somewhat restricted with respect to the complexity of a library; for this reason,

  • 21Alfredo Serrai, Il bibliotecario e la scienza, in: Ricerche di biblioteconomia e di bibliografia, (...)

Library science is a term that cannot embrace all library activities with the idea of being able to elevate them to the rank of applications of theories or scientific hypotheses. In library science it is necessary to identify which fields of research are involved, which are not, and which never will be21.

  • 22  A. Serrai, Biblioteconomia come scienza. Introduzione ai problemi e alla metodologia, Firenze, Ols (...)
  • 23Jesse H. Shera, Philosophy of Librarianship, in: World Encyclopaedia of Library and Information Se (...)

16At this point, we have to admit that, assessed using the parameters of the nomothetic sciences, as Serrai intends with the term ‘science’, library science is reduced to very little. Above all, that profound nucleus seems to have nothing of a nomothetic framework, the very foundation of the discipline that Ventura speaks of, a nucleus that we struggle to pin down, but that intuitively we know exists: a real tangle that contains the threads of those entities that we call text, book, reading, document, information, bibliography: i.e. everything we think of when we say ‘library’. Beyond nomothetic implications, as far as the remainder of library science is concerned (a remainder that is actually the larger part) this is why it must inevitably refer to the idiographic sphere, where the value that the nomos assumes in its epistemological horizon is to be understood «in the sense of a custom, a habitual procedure, and therefore recommended, rather than in the sense of a law that codifies determined phenomena, that establishes proven and therefore absolute rules»22. This set of rules, or norms, or prescriptions that cannot aspire to the value of generic laws is at one and the same time the limit and identifying characteristic of library science as a discipline, since it does not belong to the sphere of “soft sciences”particularly the social ones, as Jesse Shera had the occasion to observe when he wrote that, «The library and the librarians deal with ideas and knowledge and their communication; hence librarianship is much closer to the humanities than to the “hard” sciences»23.

  • 24  G. Giorello, Modello, p. 419.
  • 25Paul Veyne, Come si scrive la storia. Saggio di epistemologia, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 1973, p. 246 (C (...)

17Therefore, using models in an idiographic field means, first and foremost, being aware of their specific limits, those characteristic limits of models seen as «conceptual references»24: they are necessary to sort out the otherwise incomprehensible muddle of phenomena, but upon which, being imperfect tools of an exclusively heuristic value (like Weber’s ideal types), we cannot found any hypothesis for the future: paraphrasing Paul Veyne, we might state that library science research is therefore «the terrain of an encounter between a constantly changing truth and some constantly anachronistic concepts»25.

  • 26  Giovanni Solimine, La biblioteca. Scenari, culture, pratiche di servizio, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2004 (...)
  • 27Manuel Castells, Il potere delle identità. Milano, Università Bocconi, 2003, p. 196 (The Power of (...)
  • 28  A heterogeneity that Traniello has defined even better as dishomogeneity, a trait which «in the en (...)

18The rapid obsolescence – we might say the “precariousness” – of the conceptual models that we use to understand the reality of libraries has become glaringly clear in these years of turbulent change. The digital communication revolution has brought out the decidedly “glocal”, and hence contradictory nature, of the library service which, as Giovanni Solimine wrote, «oscillates between an aspiration to guarantee unlimited accessibility to all the knowledge of the world and the need to base its existence on a concrete context to satisfy the information needs of its own particular users»26. An interpretation that translates into library science terms that dichotomy between the “space of flows” and the “space of places” already identified in the 1990s by Manuel Castells as one of the most significant traits of contemporary society; because, if on the one hand digital networks have given rise to new spatial forms characterized by the global convergence of information (with everything that ensues in terms of effects on the markets, and cultural and political practices), on the other, the fact remains that «most of human experience and its sense still have a local basis»27. The heterogeneity of reference users, of its own property, of the buildings that house the libraries and the forms of organizing and displaying its documents (from classifications to OPAC interfaces), the institutions that oversee them, this heterogeneity28– we were saying – represents the real characteristic of all libraries in a broad sense, and the public library in particular.

  • 29  Ivi, p. 239-245.

19Let us take the Italian case as an example. What does the history of public libraries in Italy tell us? Let us ask, in particular: how was the Anglo-Saxon style public library received in Italy? In a purely preventive vein, and while awaiting more in-depth investigations, it seems that we can state that the debate over public libraries in the 1960s29can also be understood as a comparison between two different ways of understanding a model: on the one hand, the centralist position of Virginia Carini Dainotti, supporter of a ministerial intervention of a nomothetic nature according to which, given determined presuppositions, the result will always be in accordance with expectations independently of local variables; on the other the attitude of Renato Pagetti, more prone to see the Anglo-Saxon public library model in an idiographic sense, i.e. as a conceptual reference to look at but not imitate slavishly, given the enormous differences in the contexts of application. In fact, one particular type of library imported from abroad, hence designed within a particular geographical context for determined objectives, was welcomed into a country, Italy, with a story of completely different (and very problematic) traits behind it with respect to the Anglo-Saxon world, obtaining as a result – today even more obvious in times of crisis for public libraries around the world – a marked fragmentation between its various institutes, some able to better metabolize the characteristic traits of the public library, others finding greater difficulty in the attempt to combine old and new applications. In any case, it is interesting to observe how the Italian case can be considered paradigmatic of the risks that the use of the model concept in library science can bring with it. These risks are in essence two.

  • 30  «Library managers should be aware of developments both within and outside librarianship that are l (...)
  • 31Jack M. Maness, Library 2.0 Theory: Web 2.0 and Its Implications for Libraries, «Webology», 3, 200 (...)
  • 32Linh Cuong Nguyen - Helen Partridge - Sylvia L. Edwards, Towards an Understanding of the Participa (...)

20The first consists in attributing to determined models characteristics of prediction that are outside the nomothetic sphere. This is what happens, for example, when on purely idiographic issues such as local demands or financing or staff skills we pass from the level of guidelines (i.e. from a communicative dimension in which what prevails is a tone of suggestion and recommendation), to the desired – but not certain – improvement in personal performance, to the plane of prescription and presumptuousness. For example, as regards problems linked to change management, the IFLA guidelines define a precise role that the most competent and knowledgeable managers should have in overseeing the actual change which, therefore, should not be a forced obsessive maintenance in respect of technological innovation times, nor imposed by decisions taken by popular demand30. Exactly the contrary of what can be read in various articles, often under the form of a proclamation, in which the destiny of the inescapable Library 2.0 model is magnified, thereby asserting, with disconcerting populism, that «as communities change, libraries must not only change with them, they must allow users to change the library»31, or again, «thanks to Web 2.0 and social media tools, users are now able to do the jobs of librarians»32.

  • 33IFLA Public Library Service Guidelines, p. 84.
  • 34Antonella Agnoli, Le piazze del sapere. Biblioteche e libertà, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2009, p. 158.
  • 35  Ibidem.

21In addition: we might agree on the fact that, as can be read in the IFLA guidelines, a library will probably function better if its staff’s skills feature «the ability to communicate positively with people; the ability to understand the needs of customers; the ability to co-operate with individuals and groups in the community»33; but how could we define a statement such as the following, other than bizarre and unfounded: «those who are not anti-conformist, creative and audacious have no place in tomorrow’s library»34? Also because, if the guidelines state the necessity of combining the above gifts with sound library science training, Antonella Agnoli completes the definition of her ideal library with a warning that it is «better to ignore the traditional professional profiles in favour of new figures from different backgrounds»35. Perhaps Agnoli may even be right, however, the model that ends up generating this type of apodictic statement is not predictive but conceptual, and can be corroborated at a phenomenal level by some positive examples, which can be countered by hundreds of cases of equally good library management thanks to (and not despite of) the fact that the staff hold a specific qualification. Only in the sphere of law, and by force of circumstances, can conceptual models generate statements that lay the grounds for a successful future, for example by obliging librarians to take a degree in a “different sphere” and not in a library science discipline, a situation forestalled in Italy by the lasting indolence of the legislator as regards this specific question.

  • 36  Cited by Franco Farinelli, Il paesaggio di Humboldt, «Il Sole 24 Ore», 31 agosto 2014, p. 18.
  • 37Riccardo Ridi, La responsabilità sociale delle biblioteche: una connessione a doppio taglio, «Bibl (...)
  • 38  See, for example, the works of David McMenemy, Telling a True Story or Making it up. Discourse on (...)

22These considerations now lead us to examine the second risk that models bring with them, i.e. the ideological use that can be made of them. Clearly, this is a risk that belongs not only to the library science sphere, but that concerns the model concept in general: «Every model always has something sinister about it», stated Elias Canetti, «because it harks back to a meta-model whose nature is invariably polemical and hostile»36. Speaking of meta-models means shifting the reasoning onto the plane of modelling philosophy and, therefore, considering cultural paradigms – i.e. that framework of beliefs, values, and aspirations – within which every model is developed and used. Contextual variables need to be borne in mind as much for nomothetic models as for idiographic ones, however, if for the former it is a comparison with reality that demonstrates their validity, to the extent that they can explain a fact and forecast a determined effect given certain conditions, and so need to be improved or substituted. Meanwhile, for idiographic models, the question remains open as to where to set the limit of acceptability in outlining the vision they should be aiming at. The “State of Law” (Rechtsstaat), like religions or any other form with which a community decides to express a shared framework of values has, amongst its objectives, precisely that of identifying certain limits and not others (something that, obviously, irritated Canetti, who was allergic to every established power) within which a model of action and development can be deemed legitimate or otherwise. This sort of social bargaining does not exclude the sphere of idiographic disciplines which, at first sight, would appear much freer, not to say anarchic. Certainly, everyone can propose the models he or she prefers according to whatever is suggested by their own culture and personal sensibility, nonetheless, their acceptance by a reference community will be commensurate with their conformity to those standards, ethical codes, and charters of principles that are the expression of a search for common values on the basis of a comparison that is as wide-ranging and mutually shared as possible. Clearly, one of the objectives, at times not in any sense secondary, in proposing an alternative model, might consist in provocation designed to question the value frameworks of a scientific community. However, it is equally expected that such a community will be more or less resistant to accepting a new model depending on the extent to which it will undermine the ontological foundations of the discipline itself. In the library science sphere today, we find ourselves faced by one of these attempts, i.e. we find ourselves in one of those historical moments of crisis for libraries which, as such, imposes the need to come up with new solutions for new problems. And who would not wish, in the face of the objective difficulty that library institutions find themselves in, to discover a model that could ferry us safely from the old to the new? Well, one of the most convenient solutions consists in proposing library models that radically break away from the past, as happens with the Bookshop Model, with Library 2.0, with Knowledge Centres, models that – albeit distinguished by different and quite specific features – share the questioning, as Riccardo Ridi wrote, of the “fundamentals” of the profession and the service37, i.e., in short, of that bibliographical vocation that has historically characterized them. These models have enjoyed remarkable success in the media (beyond the eternal fascination of subversion, they nonetheless have the merit of having identified incontrovertible crisis factors that need to be tackled) but, on the other hand, it is important to underline the circumspection with which their contributions have been greeted so far by international associations, and the pressing criticisms they have received from a theoretical point of view38. This is resistance that has grown inside the scientific world and the profession, which some might define as merely misoneist, but that, in our view, is consistent with that notion of library complexity that we began from.

  • 39Maurizio Vivarelli, Retoriche dello spazio. Testo e paratesto della biblioteca tra sociologia, arc (...)

23Personally, I do not believe in simple solutions to complex problems such as those concerning today’s public libraries, and I fear that the three new models mentioned above tend, albeit in a praiseworthy effort of renewal, to deaden the «specific documentary and communicative languages of a library, in the absence of which there is no dialogue between people, spaces and collections, which is the preliminary condition for producing a concrete tension towards freedom, on the part of those who choose to share in constructing that dialogue».39

4. Towards a new type of model

  • 40Murray S. Martin, A Future for Collection Management, «Collection Management», 6, 1984, 3-4, p. 1- (...)
  • 41  G. Vitiello, Le biblioteche europee nella prospettiva comparata, cit., p. 30-31.

24«Libraries are desperately in need of new models for the future»40, stated Murray S. Martin at the dawn of the great revolutions at the end of the last century. Thirty years later, it appears to us that this necessity remains unchanged, on the one hand because – as we said – it is required on the theoretical plane by a library science that seeks to attain its own specific scientific nature41, and on the other, because it is demanded by libraries, today tackling an unprecedented identity crisis, as unprecedented as the major transformation in course in the societies they operate in.

  • 42Fabrizio Maimone, Dalla rete al silos: modelli e strumenti per comunicare e gestire la conoscenza (...)

25The problem, therefore, consists first and foremost in seeking a type of model that can, or rather, that tries to respond appropriately to the complex needs of the contemporary world, avoiding solutions that are pre-packaged in terms of organizing spaces, services and functions and, at the same time, are reductionist on the plane of the dialectic between tradition and change. On the contrary, the peculiar traits of the organizational models that best answer the characteristics of a post-industrial context would seem to include: the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions, consistent hybridism in living with the old and new, and the centrality of communication as a structural element of an organization’s life42. Do we have available, in the library science sphere, a type of model that satisfies these characteristics? The answer, from our viewpoint, is positive, as shown by the two examples we are about to propose, both linked – albeit with necessary distinctions – to a model concept that, even though corroborated by concrete applications, excludes every predictive certainty, presenting itself instead as a tool to be used to instigate a specific development plan that can be applied to each single library.

  • 43  A. Galluzzi, Biblioteche per la città, p. 136.
  • 44  Ivi, p. 168.

26The first model, known to Italians since it was proposed by Anna Galluzzi in Biblioteche per la città, is that of the Multipurpose Library. This is characterized by the possibility of: a) reconciling small and large dimensions; b) creating personalized services; c) increasing leisure time facilities and, at the same time, those of study and research; d) focussing on functional, experiential and metaphorical components; e) relaunching the library as a public place that is a part of the city43. As you will observe, these salient traits fully harmonize with the directives of the organizational models we have just mentioned: playing on an ability to combine four basic roles – the library as culture centre, knowledge centre, social centre, and information centre – each institute being put in the condition to design «a personal path of meaning»44that will allow it, given the peculiar physiognomy characterizing it (and which makes it a unique example as regards its own history, way of management, the building housing it, the collections it holds and the reference community), to tackle complexity efficiently. Curiously, Galluzzi defines this approach to the Multipurpose Library as something that goes beyond modelling, while in reality what is being proposed is actually a different type of model which, in contrast with what the author says, does not turn into a mere sum of preceding ones, but that all of them subsume in an overall dialectic, without remaining restricted to the predictive vocation of each single one.

  • 45Henrik Jochumsen - Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen - Dorte Skot-Hansen, The Four Spaces – a New Model (...)
  • 46  Ivi, p. 594.
  • 47  Ibidem.

27In fact, Jochumsen, Hvenegaard Rasmussen and Skot-Hansen in presenting their “four spaces model”45 – and here we are at the second example – do not abandon the term “model” but, on the contrary, deem it totally appropriate to emphasize its function in stimulating theoretical discussion («the model could be used as a framework for the discussion of the library’s overall purpose and legitimacy internally in relation to its employees, but also externally in relation to politicians, users and partners»46) and, contextually, «an instrument for arranging or rearranging libraries as well as a tool in plans for building new libraries»47). This model too, like the previous one, is based on a mixture of functions referable to four specific spaces (cultural centre, knowledge centre, social centre and information centre) to be identified and calibrated in each single structure, spaces that are in fact not too dissimilar from those proposed by Galluzzi. The planning activity carried out on the basis of the “four spaces model” should therefore allow the definition of a personalized profile for each institute which, in accord with citizens’ delegations, could function as a lever to improve services.

  • 48  G. Vitiello, Le biblioteche europee nella prospettiva comparata, p. 33.
  • 49  In this sense, we solicit, with her incurable optimism, Maria Stella Rasetti, Il bibliotecario tra (...)
  • 50  Paul Krugman, Raccontare storie più che dimostrare teoremi, «Il Sole 24 ore», 26 ottobre 2014, p. (...)

28In conclusion: a type of model that allows the maximum degree of flexibility is, nowadays, the sole possibility that can seriously be taken into consideration to avoid «the blurring of regional or national singularities and the absorption of anomalous situations within a homogeneous and rectilinear scale of progress for libraries»48. In a phase of uncertainty like the present one, which characterizes both the macro-contexts in which possible library models should be applied and the micro-contexts of the various local situations, there is no other road that attempts to carry out its tasks in the best way possible with the scarce resources available49: recognizing the different nature of these “lacks” and understanding how to exploit them to the full would already be a major result for a tool of theoretical investigation. For the rest, it would be opportune to tune in, to observe single concrete experiences and draw inspiration from these for library science practice: as Paul Krugman wrote, this is the most suitable time to «tell stories rather than demonstrate theorems»50.

Notes

1 1 Joseph Licklider, Libraries of the Future, Cambridge (Mass.), MIT Press, 1965, p.4.

2  Ivi, p. 6.

3  In Italy, some interesting reflections on the contribution of Licklider’s legacy have been expressed by Michele Santoro, Biblioteche e innovazione. Le sfide del nuovo millennio, Milano, Editrice Bibliografica, 2006, p. 129 and ff. and by Paola Castellucci, Dall’Ipertesto al Web. Storia culturale dell’informatica, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2009, passim.

4  Cfr. Joseph Walsh, The Psychological Person: Cognition, Emotion and Self, in: Elizabeth D. Hutchison, Dimensions of Human Behavior. Person and Environment, London; Thousand Oaks (CA), Sage Publications, 2003, p. 151-182: 155. Amongst Piaget’s work on the theme see, in particular, The Origins of Intelligence in Children, New York (NY), International Universities Press, 1952.

5  An empirical test on the use of this terminology can be made, for example, through Google Books Ngram Viewer <https://books.google.com/ngrams> using the search string “public library model”. One excellent tool to find key passages on the use of the “model” concept in library science is the book by Gregg Sapp, A Brief History of the Future of Libraries: an Annotated Bibliography, Lanham (Md.), Scarecrow Press, 2002.

6Brian Derfer, Mental Models: How Do Our Minds Work? San Diego, University of California, 1995, <http://pages.ucsd.edu/~jmoore/courses/schemas.html>.

7  Cfr. Lorenzo Schiavina, Metodi e strumenti per la modellizzazione aziendale. Come gestire il problem solving e il decision making, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2006.

8Enciclopedia Garzanti di filosofia, Milano, Garzanti, 1993, s.v.

9Oxford English Dictionary Online, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015, <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/120577>.

10  «It is precisely in the abstract nature of certain models with respect to others that a criterion of the scientific uses of modelling might be sought», Giulio Giorello, Modello, in: Enciclopedia, Torino, Einaudi, 1980, vol. IX, p. 383-422: 385 (already italicized in the text).

11  «We must remember that models represent constructions featuring a meaning that is more circumscribed than that of scientific laws and theories and have an instrumental connotation. In other words, it is usual to hold that a model has no general connotation, but is limited to a context, and can be judged “good” when it is useful for precise ends (descriptive, explanatory or predictive) and not necessarily when it is held to be “true”», Maria Carla Galavotti, Leggi, modelli causali e manipolabilità, in: Il ruolo del modello nella scienza e nel sapere. Conference proceedings (Rome, 27-28 October 1998), Roma, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1999, p. 45-64: 46.

12Arturo Rosenbluth – Norbert Wiener, The Role of Models in Science, «Philosophy of Science», 12, 1945, 4, p. 316-321: 316.

13Wilhelm Windelband, Storia e scienza della natura, in: Lo storicismo tedesco, a cura di Pietro Rossi, Torino, UTET, 1977, p. 313-332.

14  «It is still possible – and it really is true – that the same objects can be subjected to both nomothetic and idiographic investigations. This depends on the fact that the antithesis between the ever-the-same and the singular is, in a certain sense, relative», W. Windelband, Storia e scienza della natura, p. 320.

15  We are following the tripartition proposed by Maurizio Ferraris, Documentalità. Perché è necessario lasciar tracce, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2009.

16Ilya Prigogine – Isabelle Stengers, La nuova alleanza. Metamorfosi della scienza, Torino, Einaudi, 1981, p. 227-228 (La nouvelle alliance. Métamorphose de la science, 1979).

17Giovanni Di Domenico, Problemi e prospettive della biblioteconomia in Italia, «Bibliotime», 4, 2001, 2, <http://www.aib.it/aib/sezioni/emr/bibtime/num-iv-2/didomeni.htm>. On the relationship between libraries and complexity see also Sunniva Evjen - Ragnar Audunson, The Complex Library. Do the Public’s Attitudes Represent a Barrier to Institutional Change in Public Libraries?, «New Library World», 110, 2009, 3-4, p. 161-174; Paolo Traniello, Le biblioteche alla luce della teoria dei sistemi, in: L’organizzazione del sapere. Studi in onore di Alfredo Serrai, a cura di Maria Teresa Biagetti, Milano, Sylvestre Bonnard, 2004, p. 421-433; Anna Galluzzi, Biblioteche per la città. Nuove prospettive di un servizio pubblico, Roma, Carocci, 2009, chap. 3.

18  <http://www.dedalo97festivaldellacomplessita.it/>.

19Roberto Ventura, Il senso della biblioteca. Tra biblioteconomia, filosofia e sociologia, Milano, Editrice Bibliografica, 2011, p. 74.

20  A complex, multi-level reading that, with good reason, could certainly be tackled using the theoretical and empirical tools that are characteristic of comparative library science. See Giuseppe Vitiello, Le biblioteche europee nella prospettiva comparata, Ravenna, Longo, 1996, p. 11-34.

21Alfredo Serrai, Il bibliotecario e la scienza, in: Ricerche di biblioteconomia e di bibliografia, Firenze, Giunta Regionale Toscana - La Nuova Italia, 1983, p. 67-77: 73.

22  A. Serrai, Biblioteconomia come scienza. Introduzione ai problemi e alla metodologia, Firenze, Olschki, 1973, p. 9.

23Jesse H. Shera, Philosophy of Librarianship, in: World Encyclopaedia of Library and Information Services, Chicago (Ill.), American Library Association, 1993, p. 460-464: 463.

24  G. Giorello, Modello, p. 419.

25Paul Veyne, Come si scrive la storia. Saggio di epistemologia, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 1973, p. 246 (Comment on écrit l’histoire, 1971).

26  Giovanni Solimine, La biblioteca. Scenari, culture, pratiche di servizio, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2004, p. 49-50.

27Manuel Castells, Il potere delle identità. Milano, Università Bocconi, 2003, p. 196 (The Power of Identity, 1997).

28  A heterogeneity that Traniello has defined even better as dishomogeneity, a trait which «in the end, depends mostly on the very wealth of the cultural history of our country [Italy], marked also in the library field by many contradictory aspects: undeniable record breakers and discouraging examples of backwardness; a wealth that sometimes appears unparalleled in terms of memories and documents, and a tendency to dispersion and oblivion; vivacity and originality in preparations and prospectives in the circulation of ideas and in the genesis of movements and organizational dysfunction; innovative passion and exasperating conservatism», P. Traniello, Storia delle biblioteche in Italia. Dall’Unità a oggi, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2002, p. 315-316.

29  Ivi, p. 239-245.

30  «Library managers should be aware of developments both within and outside librarianship that are likely to have an impact on service development. They should make time to read and study so that they can anticipate the effect of changes, particularly technological, on the future shape of the service. They should also ensure that policy-makers and other staff are kept informed of future developments», International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Section of Public Libraries, IFLA Public Library Service Guidelines. Edited by Christie Koontz and Barbara Gubbin, Berlin - New York, De Gruyter Saur, 2010, p. 102.

31Jack M. Maness, Library 2.0 Theory: Web 2.0 and Its Implications for Libraries, «Webology», 3, 2006, 2, <http://www.webology.org/2006/v3n2/a25.html>.

32Linh Cuong Nguyen - Helen Partridge - Sylvia L. Edwards, Towards an Understanding of the Participatory Library, «Library Hi Tech», 30, 2012, 2, p. 335-346: 337.

33IFLA Public Library Service Guidelines, p. 84.

34Antonella Agnoli, Le piazze del sapere. Biblioteche e libertà, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2009, p. 158.

35  Ibidem.

36  Cited by Franco Farinelli, Il paesaggio di Humboldt, «Il Sole 24 Ore», 31 agosto 2014, p. 18.

37Riccardo Ridi, La responsabilità sociale delle biblioteche: una connessione a doppio taglio, «Biblioteche oggi», 32, 2014, 3, p. 26-41: 34.

38  See, for example, the works of David McMenemy, Telling a True Story or Making it up. Discourse on the Effectiveness of the Bookshop Model for Public Libraries, «Library Review», 58, 2009, 1, p. 5-9; Anthony Grafton, Future Reading, «The New Yorker», 5 November 2007, <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/11/05/future-reading> ; Carlo Revelli, La biblioteca pubblica come luogo sociale. A proposito di Le piazze del sapere, «Biblioteche oggi», 27, 2009, 7, p. 7-11; Tom Kwanya - Christine Stilwell - Peter G. Underwood, Library 2.0 : Revolution or Evolution?, «South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science», 75, 2009, 1, p. 70-75.

39Maurizio Vivarelli, Retoriche dello spazio. Testo e paratesto della biblioteca tra sociologia, architettura, biblioteconomia, «Biblioteche oggi», 28, 2010, 2, p. 7-22: 10.

40Murray S. Martin, A Future for Collection Management, «Collection Management», 6, 1984, 3-4, p. 1-9: 5.

41  G. Vitiello, Le biblioteche europee nella prospettiva comparata, cit., p. 30-31.

42Fabrizio Maimone, Dalla rete al silos: modelli e strumenti per comunicare e gestire la conoscenza nelle organizzazioni flessibili, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2007, p. 46.

43  A. Galluzzi, Biblioteche per la città, p. 136.

44  Ivi, p. 168.

45Henrik Jochumsen - Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen - Dorte Skot-Hansen, The Four Spaces – a New Model for the Public Library, «New Library World», 113, 2012, 11-12, p. 586-597.

46  Ivi, p. 594.

47  Ibidem.

48  G. Vitiello, Le biblioteche europee nella prospettiva comparata, p. 33.

49  In this sense, we solicit, with her incurable optimism, Maria Stella Rasetti, Il bibliotecario tra resilienza e “coopetizione”: avventurarsi nella crisi alla ricerca di nuove opportunità (The librarian between resilience and “coopetition”: venturing into the crisis in search of new opportunities), in: Verso un’economia della biblioteca. finanziamenti, programmazione e valorizzazione in tempo di crisi, a cura di Massimo Belotti, Milano, Editrice Bibliografica, 2011, p. 177-191. Proceedings of the conference held in Milan, 11-12 March 2010.

50  Paul Krugman, Raccontare storie più che dimostrare teoremi, «Il Sole 24 ore», 26 ottobre 2014, p. 23.

Auteur

Dipartimento di Lettere, Arti, Storia e Società, Università di Parma. Email address alberto.salarelli[at]unipr.it

Alex Gillan (Traducteur)