Libraries: the next academic bossware?

OCLC Research is going all-in on “research analytics” (see also). Rah-rah libraries, or something.

I chuckled ruefully at the discussion of libraries whose constituencies can’t see them as anything other than book pushers. Been there, done that, burned a whole stack of T-shirts—dealing with it right now at the day job, actually, and it’s as demoralizing and demotivating as ever.

But no, I actually had a much more visceral reaction to the idea that’s far more TattleTape-relevant. I’ll be blunt: the point of all this bibliometrics stuff at the institution level is judging and punishing people. Oh, sure, it’s never couched in those terms, but is anybody at all fooled? Really? It’s about denying tenure and promotion, axing “unproductive” departments, and making sure every single researcher knows that the bosses are breathing down their neck.

It’s bossware. It’s all bossware. Academic bossware. And libraries—some of them, anyway—are piling right in, unthinking and uncaring. Parallels with learning analytics will be left as an exercise for the reader… but I’ll spoil it: the main commonality is the so-far ubiquitous and inevitable use of the analysis techniques to judge and punish. Knowing what the “successful” student or researcher does just leads to judging and punishing the “unsuccessful” one. Understanding success does not come from data; it comes from understanding, which is not a quantitative enterprise.

Down with learning analytics. Down with research analytics. They’re too easy to wield as bossware, as weapons.