UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Bosch’s Guide to the Internet (and Implications for #librarians)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 Mar 2012

Warnings of the Perils We Face

On Saturday, while having a few day’s holiday in Madrid, I came across a guide to the Internet The guide will be familiar to many, but I hadn’t realised that it was to be found in the Prado Museum in Madrid. The strange thing about the guide was that it was created between 1490 and 1510. The guide is shown below and in case you are unfamiliar with the name, as I was, it is known as The Garden of Earthly Delights by the Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch.

Image from Wikipedia

When I saw the painting (a triptych) I was reminded of the poster entitled The Web Is Agreement by Paul Downey which I highlighted in post entitled Tower of WS-Babel in January 2008.

Image from Available under a Creative Commons licence.

Paul’s poster illustrated the Web as a place containing both good and evil, with the dark places representing both inappropriate content and inaccessible places which could not easily be visited due to a failure to abide by the Web’s commandments.

The Role of The Librarian

Bosch’s painting is described in Wikipedia as providing “a didactic warning on the perils of life’s temptations“. Whilst the title of Borsch’s painting focusses on earthly perils, we now know there are perils to be faced in the online environment. But what is the role of librarians in a world in which we need to acknowledge that there are perils to be faced online?

In the early days of the Web there was a feeling that the role of librarians was to identify the safe areas of the Web and to provide maps of such areas. Initially librarians who had HTML authoring expertise would provide such links and later services such as the RDN, which later was renamed Intute, provide links to trusted sources.

The role of the librarian was, it seems, to provide guides to the safe areas of the Web; areas in which, perhaps, unicorns would safely graze with no beasties to be found.

But today we know that such patronising approaches are no longer applicable, especially in a higher education context. Instead the role of the librarian continues to provide maps of the online environment, but in addition to provide advice if the visitor chooses to explore off the beaten path. The librarian is also well-positioned to warn of the dangers in unquestioning trust in maps provided by others – Karen Blakeman, for example,frequently highlights the risks in treating Google as an infallible guide, views which have been echoed by Phil Bradley. It should also be noted that the warnings depicted in The Web is Agreement poster also highlight terrain which it might be difficult to access, special browser technologies, such as Flash support, may be needed – but again the emphasis is on providing education on dangers rather than imposing barriers to travel.

What of the Marketing Department?

If the role of the librarian is a be a supportive guide, which is the role of the marketing department?

Traditionally we probably feel that our institution’s marketing department tends to provide a positive gloss on our institution: the sky is cloudless; the sun is shining and the students are attractive. The marketing department at Borsch’s institution would , no doubt, pick on the unicorns as a positive image, and highlight statistics on unicorn satisfaction levels and future employability.

A post by Karin Joly entitled Not your usual #highered Admissions Video: Beer, Blood and Applications? published on the blog suggested an alternative way of making your institution appealing to potential students. This time, as can be seen on the YouTube video, rather than the cliché of a happy student environment, we had a unearthly guide who magical powers sadly came to an unfortunate end.

Hmm, I wonder if Bosch’s painting can inspire a new generation of marketing videos? After all there have been over 2 million views on YouTube, which may provide audience figures which marketing people would sell their soul give their right arm for!

2 Responses to “Bosch’s Guide to the Internet (and Implications for #librarians)”

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