Of Pete Townshend, altmetrics and libraries: #LibPub session 2

The Who release “My Generation” – 3rd December 1965 Pete Townshend’s instrument-smashing became integral to their live performances. Image via BBC.
The Who release “My Generation” – 3rd December 1965
Pete Townshend’s instrument-smashing became integral to their live performances.
Image via BBC.

Changing habit is hard. And generally it happens as a function of our pants being on fire. So if your pants are on fire it turns out that you do change. But prior to that there’s a build-up.”

-Lisa Gansky, The Future is Sharing

In our first session of Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society last Friday I hoped to encourage some collective brainstorming around the meaning and evolution of “publishing” by considering some examples from rock and roll as a particular form of disruptive innovation. (I really enjoyed the conversation that ensued about publishing outputs). How could Bob Dylan had been booed by the audience in 1965, the exact same year in which the Who’s Pete Townsend was being cheered by loving audiences for his instrument smashing, and when a year before, in 1964 the Beatles had already toured and ‘conquered’ the United States (that distant planet across the pond)?*

When we use “disruptive innovation” in this sense the term refers to an innovation (can be an object, a process, an event, or all of them at the same time) that initially disrupts and gradually and over the years interrogates and displaces earlier markets, forms of behaviour and “value networks” associated to specific forms of technology whilst retaining some core identifying elements of the replaced technologies.

‘Disruption’ in this sense must not be understood necessarily in a negative sense, but as the necessary thrust to make change possible. For example, email was a disruptive innovation because it disrupted the markets and value networks defined by and associated with postal mail. Email hasn’t completely replaced postal mail, and many features of postal mail do survive in email. In tomorrow’s session we will see other examples of disruptive innovation in the specific case of publishing and libraries. It is important to remember it’s never as simple as “this will kill that“: more subtle and complex processes than sequential substitutions of technologies are always at play.

One of the things we will do tomorrow is discuss how the concept of “the knowledge economy”, discussed originally by Peter Drucker  as an extension of the “information society” in an age led by information and information technologies is being complemented by the notion of “the sharing economy” (Cooke 2013; Gansky 2010). This concept implies amongst other things that information technology  can empower people and organisations of all types within society with information that enables distribution, sharing and reuse of goods and services (including information itself). The idea encompasses an understanding of information as a “good”, and suggests that when information about goods is shared, the value of those goods increases for everyone in society.

It is within this context that we will start taking a look at the development of publishing as a key techno-socio-cultural process playing a major role within the information chain and therefore within society.

For the second part of the lecture we will welcome Jean Liu (@portablebrain) who will talk to us about how Altmetric, a London-based start-up, tracks and analyses the online activity around scholarly literature through article level metrics. I thought Jean’s experience would be highly appreciated within the scope of our module because Altmetric is an example of a successful start-up doing innovative work within a major publishing house and whose “product” in my view is a service that largely depends on the ‘value networks’ of an economy that necessitates and promotes the sharing of information.  Jean is the product development manager at Altmetric and she is also a talented neuroscientist, science blogger, blog curator and illustrator.

As a general mindset for our module I would like us to think about how libraries are interacting with disruptive innovations in publishing, and how we can as information professionals or librarians critically embrace (or even reject?) technological and cultural disruptions in order to best develop the library services of the future.

*This is a pedagogical example, not a formal musicological or rock and roll history research question… ;-)