Curators of the Infosphere

Here is a short, personal account of our panel (27th March) at the iConference, held in Sheffield 26th-28th March 2018.

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Curators of the Infosphere

Philosophy, in its concern with ontology, epistemology and ethics, is of fundamental relevance to library & information science (LIS). Our panel posited four provocations, from which to debate the value of Floridi’s philosphy of information (PI), as a foundational philosophy for LIS.

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LIS can be defined as the study of the processes of the information communication chain, and the interactions between them.

I first wrote about the usefulness of the communication chain model as a framework for LIS in 2009, and over the ensuing decade, I have updated the processes to include those shown below.

Information Communication Chain 2018

Definition of Library & Information Science, Robinson 2018

The processes and associated interactions are affected by changes in society: new technologies, contemporary politics, economics, and socio-cultural behaviour. There is a need for continual study of informational processes, so that we can anticipate and understand the consquences and impact of drivers for change on how information can be accessed and used to enable a fair and prosperous society to flourish.

Within the field of LIS, we understand information as being instantiated as documents. Documents, assuming the widest possible definition, are the means by which LIS performs its stewardship of the record of humankind.

Much of our world is now living hyperhistorically (Floridi, 2014, p4), where ICTs are not only required to record and transmit our transactions, but are essential for maintenance and further growth of society, welfare and wellbeing.

Following Floridi’s keynote presentation: “What human project should be pursued by a mature information society?”, our interactive panel, organised by David Bawden, debated the value and potential Floridi’s philosophy of information (PI) as a foundation for LIS. The panel members, of which I was one, are listed below, alongside a summary of their provocations:

David Bawden (City, University of London)
Chair

Luciano Floridi (Oxford Internet Institute)
Discussant

Jonathan Furner (UCLA)
A little bit about (what I perceive to be) a difference between philosophy of information (as a branch of philosophy, like philosophy of mind or epistemology) and Floridi’s Philosophy of Information (as a philosophical position, like realism or naturalism), and about the implications of making that distinction

Ken Herold (Adelphi University, New York)
A brief note on my own discovery of PI in 1999 and the process of deriving the PI literature within LIS through my Library Trends issues, with observations regarding an applied philosophy using the example of the philosophy of time/computation.

Lyn Robinson (City, University of London)
A short reflection on the move to on-life as a once-only transition in the life of a civilisation (Floridi 2018), and the response of LIS.

Betsy van der Veer Martens (Oklahoma) (contributing remotely)
A brief note on the concept of “ontic trust” as it might expand LIS’s remit beyond our interests in information collection (well described by Richard Fyffe, 2015) and into the collective interests of the infosphere (well described by Massimo Durante, 2017).

What is (Library &) Information Science?
The first point of discussion revisited the well known debate surrounding the relationship of information science to library & information science, and the perceived lack of agreed definition for either. The question was whether such a lack of agreement meant it was difficult to debate the value of PI.

A similar question raised the issue of if, and how, PI applied to archives and records management.

Whilst the different approaches taken between UK/Europe and the US to information science are understood, I believe that the information communication chain model offers those of us who lean towards the documentation movement to explicate and define information science, an entirely suitable framework for linking not only library and information science, but all the information sciences, including archives and records management.

All of the information sciences are concerned with the processes of information communication, which can be regarded as a spectrum of activities. Whether research and practice may be termed library science, information science, archival work or records managment, depends entirely upon from where within the communication chain the viewpoint arises. Library related activities focus on processes associated with collections and services; information science may focus on technological solutions to information retrieval, or analysis of data; whilst archival practice may focus on the authority, provenance and access for a given set of documents. All are encompassed by the categories comprising the information communication chain.

In this case, there is no difficulty in considering the value and potential of PI to the collective disciplinary range.

What Kind of Philosophy is the Philosophy of Information?
A second point of discussion considered at which level Floridi’s philosophy of information was to be understood; as a branch of philosophy, PI, at the same level as epistemology, or as a philosophical position, pi, akin to realism, for example.

Floridi responded that it was not an important distinction. My suggestion would be that it is useful to view Floridi’s philosophy of information from the principles set out below:

Floridi describes PI as a philosophia prima:

‘PI asks what is the nature of information?’ (Floridi 2011, p 14)

PI, like philosophy of mathematics, is phenomenologically biased. It is primarily concerned with the whole domain of first-order phenonema represented by the world of information, computation, and the information society, although it addresses its problems by starting from the vantage point represented by the methodologies and theories offered by ICS (information and computational sciences) and can be seen to incline towards a metatheoretical approach in so far as it is methodologically critical towards its own source.’ (Floridi 2011, p 14)

‘PI: The philosophy of information (PI) is the philosophical field concerned with a) the critical investigation of the conceptual nature and basic principles of information, including its dynamics, utilization, and sciences; and b) the elaboration and application of information-theoretic and computational methodologies to philosophical problems.’ (Floridi 2011, p 14)

Further, he goes on to elaborate that:

‘… its task is to develop …. an integrated family of theories that analyse, evaluate and explain the various principles and concepts of information, their dynamics and utilization…’ (Floridi 2011, p 14)

‘Dynamics of information’ includes:

‘information life cycles, i.e. the series of various stages in form and functional activity, through which information can pass, from its initial occurrence to its final utilization and possible disappearance;’ (Floridi 2011, p 14)

In the footnote, ‘a typical lifecycle’ is said to include the following phases:

‘occurring (discovering, designing, authoring, etc.), processing and managing (collecting, validating, modifying, organizing, indexing, classifying, filtering, updating, sorting, storing, networking, distributing, accessing, retrieving, transmitting, etc.), and using (monitoring, modelling, analysing, explaining, planning, forecasting, decision-making, instructing, educating, learning, etc.).’ (Floridi 2011, p 14)

The information lifecycle is readily recognised as a more fine-grained description of the processes of the information communication chain.

It would follow therefore, that PI is of relevance to LIS as a first philosophy, which investigates the nature of information, to subsequently address the problems of information communication.

The philosophy of information does not relate exclusively to LIS however, and PI should be understood to address the overarching nature of information and the information society.

“PI can explain and guide the purposeful construction of our intellectual environment, and provide the sytematic treatment of the conceptual foundations of contemporary society.” (Floridi 2011, p 25)

Whilst Floridi states that the task of PI is not to develop a unified theory of information, an examination of the ways in which the semantic information of LIS is understood in relation to the concepts held by different domains, is certainly of value, and in a small contribution to this wider remit, David Bawden and I have considered the ways in which different disciplines understand the concept of information, attempting to draw out unifying threads (Robinson and Bawden, 2013). For more work on information within different disciplines and domains, see also Floridi 2016).

A Retrospective Fit
The third issue acknowledged that we were applying the philosophy of information to LIS retrospectively, and asked whether this was ever really possible or appropriate. Is it a requirement for underlying philosophies to exist before the discipline for which they provide the building blocks, or is it feasible to apply a philosophical foundation after the event, as a discipline develops?

The outcome from the ensuing discussion was that it is acceptable, and often valuable to apply a philosophical position to a discipline retrospectively. Indeed this often happens in the case of recently emerged fields such as media studies, or new branches of medical science. The question of whether a given philosophical position is appropriate or valuable to a discipline still remains however.

A Response from LIS
My provocation was to give a response from LIS as to whether Floridi’s philosophy of information has value for LIS. The short answer, I believe, is that is does, furnishing us with a more holistic foundation than those offered by alternative philosophical writings such as social epistemology or Popper’s three worlds (Bawden and Robinson, 2018).

All disciplines require a philosophical foundation, although often such stances may be implicit rather than explicit in the literature. As LIS can be described as the study of information communication processes, a philosophical underpinning focused on information would seem desirable to provide the conceptual basis for our disciplinary activities.

LIS has been connected with technologies of communication since written record keeping emerged around 5.500 BCE. It is agreed within the discipline that technological development is the most significant force driving activities within the LIS field.

‘Although a very old concept, information has finally acquired the nature of a primary phenomenon only thanks to the sciences and technologies of computation and ICT.’ (Floridi 2011, p 15)

The contemporary significance of this is further described succinctly by Floridi, in drawing attention to the fact that we live in a unique time, as the more senior amonst us are what remains of the last generation which will have known a completely analogue world. (Floridi, 2018). With the move to our hybrid environment, incorporating Floridi’s concepts of the 4th revolution, the infosphere, hyperhistory and onlife, LIS transitions from stewardship of the physical record to stewardship of the infosphere.

Floridi’s philosophy of information seems to be the most helpful foundation to date, in its alignment with and consideration of concepts relation to data, information, socio-technological and ethical concerns.

A question often asked by LIS students in my classes, arises, I think, from a difficulty in relating the somewhat abstract study of the nature of information, to concrete tools that can be used to form answers to the questions which are important to LIS. At the end of my slides, I am usually asked ‘ – but what is the philosophy of information?’

Floridi sets out the central problems that the philosophy of information seeks to address, in five areas:

‘problems in the analysis of the concept of information, in semantics, in the study of intelligence, in the relation between information and nature, and in the investigation of values.’ (Floridi 2011, p 26)

LIS, regarded as the applied philosophy of information, aligns itself well with these concerns.

At the risk of oversimplification, I offer the students a list of selected ideas from Floridi’s work which we can use to build our understanding of information, and the information society,  and thus act as points of reference for the wider study of the nature of information. I would be grateful for any comments from which to further develop this answer – indeed it is likely to be of wider interest, not only to students, but also to practitioners and researchers.

4th Revolution
General Definition of Information (GDI)
Infosphere
Onlife
Ontic Trust

Conclusions
OVerall, the discussion and debate emphasised a need for more widespread agreement on the terminologies relating to philosophy, (branches of philosophy vs positions for example) and identified a gap for further work on the identification, description and examination of philosophical viewpoints as they relate to LIS. We also need a basic framework from which to critique philosophical literature as it relates to our discipline and practice.

During the panel, in addition to Floridi’s philosophy of information, Egan and Shera’s social epistemology was mentioned, as was Popper’s three worlds and open society. All have affinity with LIS, but their applicability is not as well investigated and documented as might be, so that despite its critical role within our society, LIS fails to benefit fully from a firm conceptual and philosophical basis.

The panel concluded with a show of hands, indicating a strong (25+ people) interest in further exploration of the distinctions and interrelationships between philosophies, paradigms and theories within, and as they relate to LIS – this is an area that is hard for students (and researchers) to comprehend, and one where there is little consensus of an agreed framework of understanding for the concepts themselves.

As library & information science transitions from stewardship of the record to curation of the infosphere, we look forward to further exploration and understanding of the philosophy of information, to enable our committment to ensuring that the record of humankind persists.

References:

Floridi L (2011). The Philosophy of Information. Oxford.

Floridi L (2014). The 4th Revolution: How the infosphere is reshaping human reality. Oxford.

Florid L (Editor) (2016). The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Information. Routledge.

Floridi L (2018). Soft ethics and the Governance of the Digital. Philos. Technol. vol 31(1) https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-018-0303-9

Bawden D and Robinson L (2018). Curating the infosphere: Luciano Floridi’s Philosophy of Information as the foundation for Library and Information Science. Journal of Documentation, Vol 74 (1) 2-17 https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-07-2017-0096 http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/17713/

Robinson L (2009). Information Science: the information chain and domain analysis. Journal of Documentation, Vol 65(4), 578-591.

Robinson L and Bawden D (2013). Mind the gap: transitions between concepts of information in varied domains. In: Theories of information, communication and knowledge. A multidisciplinary approach. Ibekwe-SanJuan F and Dousa T. (Eds.) Springer. http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/6446/

On Information, and Digital Ethics: thoughts from International Society for Information Studies 2017 Summit

Digital Ethics Panel 2017

Digital Ethics Panel at IS4SI 2017, Gothenburg, Sweden.

I was delighted to be invited to take part in this panel on digital ethics, lead by Rafael Capurro and Jared Bielby. The panel was part of a wider conference of The International Society for Information Studies Summit 2017, and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to meet colleages in person, and to consider Information Science from the wider, international and interdisciplinary perspective. [The conference hashtag was #is4si2017, but you can also follow @is4si_online]

Here are a few personal thoughts and recollections from some of the conversations I had at the conference. They are written mostly for my own reference for teaching, but they may be of wider interest to LIS folks. My perspective here covers only a tiny amount of the knowledge and ideas shared over the entire event. Do take a look at the overall Programme from the link above.

The encounter overall inspired me to think that we need a whole module on Digital Information Ethics for CityLIS, and that this area is one of critical importance for LIS professionals, whatever stage of their career.

Communication in the Digitised World: The role of messages and messengers

This discussion was led by Rafael Capurro, and included John Holgate and José María Díaz Nafría, Anna Suorsa, Francesca Vidal, Sarah Spiekermann, Marco Schneider, two Chinese colleagues (whose names I regrettablly did not catch), and myself. This small group took the form of an informal seminar, and I found myself wishing that I could have more time for this level of conceptual consideration, with such a highly informed group of colleagues.

This forum aims to discuss the phenomenon of messaging in our globally digitised world. Against the historical backdrop of various theories and philosophies of communication in society, the biosphere as well as in physics and mathematics, the notion of ‘message’ has emerged as a central unifying idea. The discipline of angeletics is exploring theses themes around key concepts such as angelos and angelia, interplay, dynamic messaging structure (hieronomy hereronomy and dianomy), and is examining the intrinsic relationship between information and communication in various professional spheres of cognitive social and phenomenological activity. The mediating sphere of experience is seen as language including natural languages, the ‘language’ of animals, metalanguages and artificial languages (such as mathematics and semiotics) grammar and philosophy of language.

We started from the question of whether we need a new terminology to explicate the concepts we imply when we use the term ‘information’. There was no word for information in the classical world, only words for message and messenger.

What is a message? What is a messenger? What role do they play in information as process? Is messaging a phenomenon in which information and communication are reciprocally embedded? If so, which comes first? The egg of information or the chicken of communication?

The English word information is singular, although there is the concept that information can be plural (for example, three pieces of information = information(s)). Other languages allow for this. Is information a process (becoming informed?) as suggested by Buckland in his 1991 paper, Information as Thing.

One of our Chinese colleagues drew for us the Chinese and Taiwanese characters for information. Chinese and Taiwanese characters for information have a common component, language – but differ on the respective second components. Chinese incorporates the symbol for a person, whilst Taiwanese incorporates the symbol for West. Intriguing. Our colleague was unable to tell us what was meant exactly by ‘West’ however, and this is something I would love to explore further.

Rafael drew our attention to a forthcoming book on communication in the ancient world. I think it must be this one: Mercury’s Wings: Exploring Modes of Communication in the Ancient World. Edited by Richard JA Talbert, and Fred S Naiden, the book has just been published by Oxford University Press. A glance at the contents has convinced me to add this to our reading list for my module, Foundations of Library & Information Science, not least because of the chapter by Matthew Nicholls, ‘Libraries and Communication in the Ancient World’.

***1/7/17 update – Rafael commented that the book he was referring to was a different one: ‘The book I meant was: Sian Lewis: News and Society in the Greek Polis, London 1996
See: https://www.amazon.com/Society-Greek-Studies-History-Greece/dp/080784621X‘ ***

The discussion turned to trust.

What are the ethical and moral implications of messaging for us today? Is messaging in all its forms serving to enhance human interplay and freedom, or are we in fact already living in Nietzsche’s dysangelium (bad tidings) – a world of trumpery circulating empty messages trumped up by messengers who can’t be trusted?

Paralells with today’s world of post-truth and fake-news were raised, and the question of ‘is the messenger to be trusted?’ and mechanisms and reasons for trust were explored. Do we trust someone according to how they appear? Who recommends them? Is trust based on past experience? How was trust established in the ancient world? I raised the issue of AI. Do we trust the algorithm? Does anyone understand the algorithm? There were, understandably, no definitive conclusions.

More was considered in respect of information. This time reflecting on Shannon.

Is Claude Shannon’s pervasive Mathematical Theory of Communication an adequate foundation for our contemporary messaging world? Alternative views of messaging should be considered (e.g. Flusser, MacLuhan, Wiener, Habermas).

There is still confusion in teaching and the literature, around Shannon’s use of the term ‘information’, even though his original work was titled ‘Mathematical Theory of Communication’, and Shannon did not imply his theory was about semantic information, as understood by LIS. We talked about the influence of Weaver in respect of the term ‘information’, and the debate and misunderstanding that has flourished ever since.

We also talked about the implications of understanding information as ‘a difference’ (I mentioned the library analogy, where ordered books intuitively imply more information – but as there is no difference, or ‘surprise’ they actually offer less information, according to Shannon. The probability of a random event is low. We compare the ordered library with a random pile of books where the ‘message’ may be surprising, the probability of a random event is high. In this case there is more information. Entropy vs negentropy, as suggested by Wiener.

For a fuller discussion of information as a difference, see my paper with @david_bawden from 2015 ‘A Few Exciting Words.’

José María Díaz Nafría talked about the need to collect, understand, and perhaps even  reconcile, differing intra- and interdisciplinary definitions of information. He has been working on a tool to pull together these theories and concepts of information, Glossarium BITri. This site is definitely worth taking time to browse, and the project is ambitious and welcome.

For more on the understanding of  information across disciplines, see my 2013 paper with @david_bawden ‘Mind the Gap‘.

Information Ethics – Digital Ethics

Information Ethics – Digital Ethics. IS4SI 2017, Gothenburg, Sweden

Marco Schneider introduced the classical and more recent philosophical background to information and ethics, suggesting that we need to pay attention to the changes implied by digital entities such as the bots and algorithms which are now commonplace within the infosphere. The panel members, named on the slide, each portrayed varied, yet equally important interests in digital information ethics. I explained my interest was twofold. Firstly from the viewpoint of information professionals as gatekeepers; those trusted to input to, explain, review or recommend resources and services. Secondly, from the viewpoint of information literacy. Information professionals are expected not only to be information literate themselves, but to promote and lead the discussion on how we define information literacy, and we can best communicate and promote skills and understanding in this increasingly important arena. Insight to and understanding of what consitutes ethical behaviour is implicit within an information literate population. Everyone deserves to engage within an ethical information environment, and in turn should be able and willing to make their own contribution to ensuring ethical information behaviour and practices within the digital sphere. Information professionals have a key role to play in ensuring that the infosphere, our digital habitat, remains ethical, and for the good of the many.

An hour was nowhere near enough to do justice to such a wide topic. The audience for our session, to the credit of Rafael and Jared, was large, and time did not allow us to hear from everyone who wanted to speak.

We touched on what is different about digital information ethics, over and above information ethics. Surely, ethical behaviour is a baseline, irrespective of whether one is in an analogue or a digital environment. Are not ethics, ethics?

I suggested that one difference brought about by digital was a question of scale. Network technology, including smartphones, have brought much more information, much more frequently, into the hands of far more people than, say, a decade ago. Whilst it is fair to argue that all types of information are more readily available, although to varying degrees, we can perhaps with justification suggest that the major change has been in the availability of, and access to global media and news.

A member of the audience suggested that we should also consider value. Ethics implies values. I agree with this. Especially from the viewpoint of the information professional; we are concerned with value, as in relevance, reputation, validity, truthfulness, evidence.

I think a major change, linked with the rise of the world wide web, is that provenance and reputation have become harder to establish as the traditional signals of publication status (i.e editorial/peer control) have faded away. The web made everything look homogenious, and therefore of the same quality. It is no longer always clear who is the author or the editor. A mere quarter of a century since the inception of Web 1.0, it is almost impossible to differentiate between truthful reportage, and fiction. Information, misinformation and disinformation, it all looks the same. Even a high degree of information literacy cannot always spot ‘fake news’. Personal and political agendas, spin and deliberate manipulation succeed as most of us do not possess the means to detect nor prevent them. I have read some suggestion that readers prefer ‘fake news’ if it confirms a personal viewpoint.

The need to be ethical in provision of information and reporting of events is no longer paramount to many. The game is now far more subtle, and usually focuses on securing an advantage. Primarily economic. It may be too late to insist on or ensure ethical rules for the digital realm, even if we finally determine what these might be. The news, for example, is increasingly controlled by algorithms, (see for example, NYT) and content provision has shifted from news providers to social media/technology companies. The demise of named editors is perhaps to be lamented. They had, one might hope, at least a small investment in their professional reputation.

Again, bots and algorithms. How can we trust what we do not understand? How can we understand these entities in order to create and promote an ethical framework?

I had a wonderful earlier conversation with panelist Sarah Spiekermann, during which she reminded me of the likely relevance of Habermas’s writing on civil discourse, to our concerns for ethical behaviour in the digital world. We are not facing new problems, just a new environment.

Reflecting on the format of our panel, it was notable that time for discussion was too limited to achieve much more than introductions and one or two comments. Whilst this was valuable in itself, I wondered if an alternative format would be possible, in order to take the discussions forward, into something more concrete.

It seemed to me that before we could discuss digital ethics, we first needed to establish amongst the panel and the audience, what was different about the digital realm. This, perhaps, could form an initial focus for future events, in order to provide a foundation for further, sturctured discussion.

I declare here, my scientific background, and thus my personal preference for structured debate. I concede that others enjoy a different approach.

Overall, I was reminded of the importance of face-to-face connection in the digital world. Meeting and talking to new colleagues was a pleasure, and highly informative. Even in the age of Skype and Google Hangouts, the physical presence is still somehow, a superior mode of communication.

It was fantastic to meet Jared Bielby, who together with Matthew Kelly, worked tirelessly to co-edit our Festschrift for Rafael: Information Cultures in the Digital Age.

See: Bawden D and Robinson L (2016). Super-science, fundamental dimension, way of being: Library and information science in an age of messages. In: Information cultures in the digital age: a festschrift in honor of Rafael Capurro, Kelly M and Bielby J (ed.), Springer, 31-43.

A modified version of my contribution, co-authored with @david_bawden, can be found here: https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:11609/

Finally, it was my very great pleasure to meet Rafael Capurro, who has made such a significant contribution to the literature of information science. I found him to be warm and generous in nature, and I hope we will meet again.

Links used in the text:

(Accessed June 19th 2017).

Angeletics.net

Buckland M. (1991). Information as Thing. http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~buckland/thing.html

Claude Shannon. https://www.bell-labs.com/claude-shannon/

Glossarium BITri. http://glossarium.bitrum.unileon.es/glossary

How Alphabet’s AI Robot is helping the New York Times Replace its Pubic Editor. https://www.fastcompany.com/40430603/alphabet-jigsaw-new-york-times-comments-robot-ai-machine-learning

Facebook’s officially a media company. Time to act like one. https://www.wired.com/2017/03/facebooks-officially-media-company-time-act-like-one/

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Jurgen Habermas. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/habermas/

Fashion Digital Memories, IUAV, Venice, May 22-23 2017

Fashion Digital Memories

X-ray imaging. Slide shown by Tim Long, @Fashion_Curator, Fashion Digital Memories, 22-23 May, Venice. Photo by @lynrobinson cc-by

I was lucky enough to be able to attend Fashion Digital Memories 2017, the Europeana Fashion Symposium 2017 organised by the Europeana Fashion International Association in collaboration with Università IUAV di Venezia and The New School – Parsons Paris. The Symposium explored the ways in which fashion archives are experimenting with, and utilising, digital technologies to enhance the record and the reader/visitor experience.

The presentations reminded us of websites which furnish the reader with rotatable, high-definition images of garments, contextual video, and text descriptions, but also showcased more innovate technologies such as those using X-ray images, which provide additional ways to explore and interpret fashion items, and which also stand as new forms of art in themselves.

The three main protagonists of the conference seemed to be (1) fashion house archives (e.g. Versace), (2) academic institutions (eg London College of Fashion, Humboldt University) and (3) significant national collections (eg MoMa, Museum of London, V&A).

Especially interesting was the keynote given by Tim Long (@Fashion_Curator), from the Museum of London. Tim outlined some of the innovative projects he was involved with, which moved beyond collecting and conservation, to explore the boundaries of fashion heritage. The role of digital recording in stimulating new ideas, innovation and creativity was paramount. The challenges inherent in capturing both material and immaterial memories was raised.

Sadly, LIS was represented only through the archive profession, although much of the material dealt with core LIS issues: how to classify items, how to use a consistent vocabulary/terminology for description, what facets are appropriate for the subject, what kind of metadata is useful, how best to use linked data, and how to make digital materials available for both experts and casual users.

There was also an emphasis on UX – in particular the idea that, for casual museum/gallery visitors entertainment must come first, and information can follow for those interested. The tendency of information professionals to want to make all their material available up front should be resisted – it should be there for those who need it, but for most people a sample of exciting/pleasing material will be enough. Experiences and encounters with archive/museum materials should be ‘delightful’. The essential need for any material to be designed for mobile technology was also emphasised, and parallels could readily be drawn with the library world; readers/visitors/audiences have high expectations borne from multimedia, snippeted and mobile informational encounters.

This is often at odds with the scholarly approach taken by traditional academics, librarians, curators and archivists. There is a contemporary need however, to make collections viable financially, and culturally available and of interest to the widest possible number of people.

Also mentioned was use of standard vocabularies – Iconclass, Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus, Getty Index of Names, OCLC’s Virtual International Authority File for names. The limitations of these vocabularies for fashion was evident. Research detailed some attempts to extend them, eg adding multilingual fashion terms to AAT, but there was also a tendency to invent local vocabularies.

Fashion clearly has a strong facet structure, though expressed slightly differently, e.g. form/shape/pattern and form/material/pattern

Video guides to collection items, on YouTube, are popular. These may be best without audio, using simple captions – so that they can be accessed anywhere when audio may not be acceptable without headphones, which helps those who first language is not English

Kate Bethune (@BethuneKate) from the Victoria and Albert Museum described the wide use of digital technologies in the recent Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty, including digital storytelling, digital ‘cabinet of curiosities’ Pepper’s Ghost and immersive sound.

Newer use of digital technologies included x-ray imaging followed by digital enhancement, deep zoom imaging,  digital garment creation from digital pattern pieces, inclusion of digital artworks (especially for preservation/reconstruction), and outreach via social media.

Overall, I thought about documents and documentation. Specifically, the similarities between attempts to document fashion with attempts to document performance. Why are we documenting, and who for? What is missing from our record?

Somewhat surprisingly, none of the presentations reference VR/AR, which seems an area which could offer much to the realms of archiving and documentation in general, and perhaps fashion, specifically.

I wondered if garmets, and their associated archives, could benefit conceptually from Buckland’s documentation theory – if we think of ‘document’ very broadly (i.e. the item of clothing as a document), we can consider firstly the physical attributes of the garment, and then subsequently, our personal interpretation or understanding of/from the garment as a document, and finally the socio-cultural meaning and impact of the garment.

There is more to fashion than looking good.

A wonderful symposium. Many thanks to organisers and sponsors.: “Europeana Fashion International Association in collaboration with Università IUAV di Venezia and The New School – Parsons Paris. The event was co-funded by the European Commission within the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) Programme.”

Further Reading:

Buckland, M. (2017). Information and Society. MIT Press.

Europeana Fashion

Long, TA. (2015) Charles James, Designer in Detail, V & A publishing.

Memories from ‘Fashion Digital Memories’ – Europeana Fashion Symposium 2017

Robinson, L (2017). Storify of Fashion Digital Memories.

Van Hooland, S and Verborgh, R (2014). Linked Data for Libraries, Archives and Museums. Facet.