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Christina's LIS Rant
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
  The various uses of the term "gatekeeper"
It strikes me in danah boyd’s notes (via) from her talk to LITA that she uses “gatekeeper” in the way I used it before reading some of the seminal work in LIS. There are some very important differences in the two senses of the term. A gatekeeper is a boundary person – one who is at the interface of two groups or domains. The gatekeeper may be the one to open the gate (span the boundary) or the one to bar passage between domains. The LIS tradition uses the first sense where boyd uses the second.

I believe Thomas Allen was one of the first to go into great detail about the function of gatekeepers in the flow of scientific information. I don’t have his work in front of me, but a lot is discussed in Tenopir and King
Sometimes the internal colleague who assists the information seeking process is an individual in the organization variously called a “gatekeeper,” “boundary-spanner,” “high performer,” or “hunter-gatherer.” …Gatekeepers are scientists or engineers who know information sources, have many contacts, and informally assist other in the organization to seek for and locate all types of information (Tenopir and King 2004, p80).
Wenger (my library’s copy currently at home, probably chapter 4) also discusses boundary artifacts/people and how they can provide access to information from different communities. We’re all parts of multiple communities of interest and communities of practice(Wenger 1999).

In boyd’s talk, however, she says, “As far as i was concerned, [the librarian’s] sole purpose was to act as a gatekeeper to information, impose moral judgments, and execute systematic ageism.” IOW, to prevent access to information by selectively allowing access only to a certain few.

This is a big jumping off point because I have seen (and battle) exactly what she’s talking about every day. I respect my library’s users and I know it’s not the right thing to do to prevent end user searching. I also very much appreciate what boyd says about librarians understanding the nature of information and also the relationships between information and people. The whole speech is worth a reading – I wish I could have been there to hear it.

So, which kind of gatekeeper are you? Are you holding the gate open or are you blockading it shut?

update: edited for formatting

Reference List
Tenopir, Carol and Donald W. King. 2004. Communication Patterns of Engineers. Piscataway, NJ: IEEE Press.
Wenger, Etienne. 1999. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

Laurel , Maryland , 20707 USA
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