NOT my context book report on Too Big to Know

Hi All,

In the spirit of the “creation in public” or “open notebook” that David Weinberger speaks about in Too Big to Know, below is my FIRST DRAFT of my context book report. I’m not submitting it as an assignment yet because our target was 300-500 words and this draft is 2,097 words including URLs that will be hidden in the actual post.

Aside from “showing my work”, I thought there might be some bits of the “five things to build a better network” discussion you might find useful but might wind up on the cutting room floor. Though that might be a conceit.

Speaking of conceits, I definitely need to drop the idea of mirroring Weinberger’s fun summary of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. I think I also may need to choose between talking about libraries taking advantage of webscale opportunities OR things they can do to build a better network.

If you do browse through this TL:DR five page document, I’d appreciate any feedback in the next few days about anything that either particularly excites, bores or confuses.

=================== DRAFT ============= DRAFT =================== DRAFT ====

This report is based on:

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Brief Synopsis

In chapter six, Weinberger gives an amusing yet informative summary of On the Origin of the Species starting with:

“One of the greatest of long-form works was published in 1859. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is a single, magnificent argument, spread out across fifteen chapters. Here it is in summary, with chapters marked:”

In this spirit, I offer the following as a short synopsis:

Too Big to Know by David Weinberger successfully critiques the Western model of “book shaped thought” while still proving there is a place for it. It is clear yet amusing diagnosis of major internet problems and a call to action spread out across nine chapters. Here it is in summary, with chapters marked:

There is a crisis in knowledge. We do not know what to be certain of anymore..[Prologue] We have an overload of knowledge, in part because our filters no longer eliminate anything. They just bring stuff we want closer to us. [1] Facts as we understand them today only came about in the 19th and 20th centuries. Darwin’s work is an example of “facts.” Facts today are becoming unnailed because of too much data. [2]Knowledge no longer lives in books or brains but in the network itself. We shall explore the implications of this for the rest of this book. [3] Once upon a time, experts were credentialed individuals who had degrees from institutions we trusted. Networked experts can come from anywhere. Here are examples.[4] Because filters now work to bring what we want closer, there is a danger of being trapped in a echo chamber with the potential to radicalize ourselves. But merely seeking out opposing viewpoints is not enough. To have constructive dialog, there has to be “just enough” diversity. [5] Knowledge in book form has been the pinnacle of Western ideas about knowledge. But a book implies a finality that doesn’t really embrace the true form of knowledge. Yes, you may call me a hypocrite for writing a book about how knowledge is not book shaped. But it looks good on my resume and I’ll make money. Footnotes in books were stopping points but footnotes in networked documents are invitations to explore.  [6] The vast amount of science data being collected today combined with network data has brought about significant changes. In particular, data has become too big for theories, the work of science is flatter – allowing non-scientists in on some of the work and has become mostly public. Here are some examples to show you what I mean. [7] Networked knowledge has changed the nature of leadership and reducing hierarchy. It is now distributed. Here are several examples of such leadership in action.[8] Our intelligence and knowledge is a function of the network. How a network is structured matters as it can make us very smart or very stupid. Five things that would build a smart network are – open access to materials, better metadata, strong linking, put the work of institutions on the and teaching everyone to use the internet effectively.[9] Here are all of my sources for you to consider. I know you’ll be linking to many of them because such is the nature of modern knowledge. [NOTES]

Lessons and Opportunities for Libraries

Harnessing the Power of Webscale

In chapters four (The Expertise of Clouds) and seven (Too Much Science) Weinberger provides examples of regular people getting involved in the work of experts. Chapter four deals mostly with business examples involving prizes or paid work. Chapter seven deals mostly with people freely volunteering to do work. I believe such ventures, but especially the nonprofit type “citizen science” reported on in chapter seven could have far reaching implications for libraries including a true liberation of special collections materials.

Before I go on, I think it would be helpful to examine two projects in a little more detail.

MoonZoo was a project created by the team of programmers who gave us Galaxy Zoo and later the Zooniverse of citizen science projects. They were approached by a team that had millions of images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and needed to have craters counted and types of terrain classified. This was a task too big for the science team but one computers were not good at. So they put the images online and invited space enthusiasts around the world to look at the images. Every image is classified by multiple people so mistakes and maliciousness cancel other out.

Here is a tutorial that shows how people experience MoonZoo:

[MoonZoo] – (tutorial)

Thankfully the Galaxy Zoo team recognized that they had a good technological approach to producing reliable results from large image sets using volunteer classifers. They established the Zooniverse and expanded to projects across a number of disciplines. One project directly analogous to special library collections is the Notes from Nature project which harvests the efforts of volunteers to transcribe specimen cards of plants, bugs and birds.

While Notes from Nature is volunteer powered, the team behind is planning outreach efforts to boost the number of volunteers as shown in this crowdfunding video:

[Notes from Nature] – (crowdfunding appeal)

I think their need to fund an outreach effort may be a caution for libraries wishing to implement this kind of approach. People won’t volunteer to do something if it is not seen as intrinsically interesting or valuable. Libraries may need to choose between projects likely to be popular or perhaps set aside some funds to take an Amazon Mechanical Turk approach where you pay people for piecework.

But I think either approach would make some projects possible that are not currently seen as feasable, such as transcribing whole sets of correspondence (link or archives) or historical indexing materials ( This would take a lot of information off the shelves and out of file drawers and make them available to the network at large. This leads to the second opportunity for libraries – To build Weinberger’s “better rooms.”

Building Better Rooms

Throughout Too Big to Know, Weinberger asserts that the smartest person in the room isn’t the biggest brain or every the group of people in room, but the room itself. A poorly constructed room can result in echo chambers and groupthink, while a well constructed room can enable constructive conversations and continuous knowledge discovery.

In chapter 9, Weinberger suggests five building blocks to “help make the networking of knowledge the blessing it should be.” (Weinberger, p. 183):

  1. Open up access

  2. Provide the hooks for intelligence (metadata)

  3. Link everything

  4. Leave no institutional knowledge behind

  5. Teach everyone

While libraries have not traditionally carried out these activities at web scale, each of these activities is practiced to some degree by nearly every library and appear to be translatable to a web scale if we work together.

Open up access – Libraries have supported open access for years either by providing information on the subject (, building repositories ( or in some cases providing funds to make articles open access (  In some places, libraries are openly supporting Creative Commons licensing (, another way to get out of the modern copyright trap.

Libraries should learn more about each others efforts to promote open access and band together in advocating for open access with their communities and funders. This will help to make open access a norm of the future, or at least a viable ecosystem alongside the strangled garden of conventional copyright.

Provide the hooks for intelligence (metadata) – No, librarians cannot catalog the web. That battle was conceded by 98% of libraries back in 1998. But what we can do is to share information on tagging. We can encourage tagging in our own resources or in Notes from Nature like projects. We can do research on tagging ( and use those results to invite further participation. We can help raise a generation of patrons comfortable with creating usable hooks, multiplying our effectiveness to webscale.

Link everything – Libraries have something to contribute here, especially government documents repositories. While some reporters mention source documents, most newspaper, magazine, television and even a few web news sources content themselves with “new jobs report”, “the 2010 health care law”, or the “Chemical Arms Treaties” or even “city council minutes.” Libraries can make some of these linkages either by a Documents (  in the News (  service or by serving as resource to civics groups interested in this sort of work.

Leave no institutional knowledge behind – In this section of the book, Weinberger appears to be talking primarily about educational institutions both as a community of scholars and as a place that provides educational courses. I think libraries here a mostly a supporting role, though the very existence of this Hyperlinked Library MOOC is proof that library/library-oriented institutions can generate original coursework and put it online.

Otherwise libraries should be prepared to assist in the production of online courses, especially helping instructors navigate the sometimes treacherous shoals of intellectual property.

Weinberger also talks about institutions that generate knowledge such as the New York Times. But institutional knowledge issues such as restricted or pay to play archives are already addressed in “open up access” above so I won’t treat it further here.

Teach everyone – David Weinberger is very clear that our society has a responsibility to teach people how to use digital tools well and that this instruction needs to start early:

If we want the Net to move knowledge forward, then we need to educate our children from the earliest possible age about how to use the Net, how to evaluate knowledge claims, and how to love difference. (p. 191)

Libraries and librarians have been doing the first two (how to use, how to evaluate) since the early days of the Net. I’d like to be believe that “how to love difference” is implied by the broad collection development policies of most libraries. However, our efforts are not very visible to the society at large and I think that part of the reason is fragmentation of effort. We have a multiplicity of “one stop digital literacy” websites either created or supported by libraries such as:

Each of these initiatives has a separate brand, communications plan and different pull for libraries. We might have more success in promoting digital literacy if states or regions could pull together and teach and market under one banner.

Aside from fragmentation of effort, I think one other reason that “teach everyone” is not immediately recognizable as a library area of expertise is lack of resources devoted to school librarians, especially in the United States. If we are going to educate our children on knowing how to use the internet well from a very early age, we need school librarians. Given the appropriate support, they can do it as school librarians such as Shannon McClintock Miller ( have shown. See her Van Meter Library Voice blog at to see just what a well motivated — and supported — school librarian can do to empower children to be wise and enthusiastic users of the Net.


In his book Too Big to Know, David Weinberger not only offers a diagnosis of a significant problem in our society — that our book shaped knowledge no longer fits our experience and this has loosened the common ground of our society, he also outlines the opportunities that await us if we can build a better room/network of knowledge. Libraries have the tools to build this room. We just have to do it together and in a way that involves our patrons.


Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

via MOOCing Up North

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s