Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version



Library Philosophy and Practice 2012


In the present day world, the ecology that the human beings inhabit is laden with various kinds of spaces and places. Our ecology encompasses different kinds of cyberspaces and market places that continuously sway our mind. This character of continuously influencing and controlling the human psyche according to Herbert Simon makes our economy an ‘attention economy’. The concept of ‘attention economy’ revolves around the innumerable existing spaces and places and the human attention. Attention Economy is considered to be one where there is scarcity of human attention. Davenport & Beck defines attention as, “focused mental engagement on a particular message or piece of information” and the attention economy as one where the scarcest resource is no longer just “capital, labour, information and knowledge,” but human attention (Davenport & Beck 2001, 20). In the attention economy there is a constant competition among different spaces and places to attract the maximum segment of the scarcest modern resource. In the modern world of consumerism only those survive the tide who seeks the attention of many. Identity assertion can be stated as the order of the day. This continuous strive of representation and recognition by the individuals and institutions determine the entities success and failure. Looking at the way the nature of the modern society restructures itself Lanham writes, “We are moving from material to method. Stuff in them is getting evaporated before our stuff-clouded eyes ... [and] the world has become a stage, staging itself for a visitor’s eye” (Lanham, 2006). Lanham means to say that the present day world has adapted ‘change’ as its permanent character. Today, the world is moving so fast that it takes no time for a mode of technology to become outdated. In the attention economy life and death of every thing depends upon the attention it attracts and the changes it adapts. In this sense attention plays a significant role in the development of libraries also.

Herbert Simon was the pioneer to articulate the concept of attention economics when he wrote:

" an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it" (Simon, 1971).

According to him, in the attention economy the information has the power to consume the attention of the people. The scarcity of attention is the result of overload of information. Therefore, the competition is among the varieties of information in the environment. Generally, a person looks at the thing that draws his/her attention. In doing so the capacity to look at other things diminishes. This is why it is important in the attention economy for information organizations to define ways they can command and hold the attention of prospective patrons. In the attention economy representation of guarantees the sustenance of the organization. Identity crisis may be due to inadequate representation in the attention economy. The identity crisis in the attention economy may be recurring, as in the changing world we are required to constantly redefine and represent ourselves. We are in the time when stability is an exception and change the rule. To make their presence felt in such overloaded information economies and the fast moving world libraries and librarians will have to represent themselves. In the attention economy presence of libraries in the society would not help them get the users. They need to make their presence felt as a significant channel in knowledge generation and dissemination process. To gain recognition they will have to move away from the traditional way the libraries functioned. There is a need for libraries to pierce into the information environment of the people in order to seek the attention of the potential readers. Resources of the libraries will remain unexplored unless the information about their resources is disseminated to the information seekers. Today, information about information is more important than the information itself. Generally, there are two significant ways in which people gather information namely, self-initiated acquisition of information and environment imparted acquisition of information. Self-initiated acquisition of information occur when user know what information he/she wants. In libraries this kind of search for information will be useful if the reader know what information he/she wants. On the other hand, environment imparted acquisition of information is initiated outside ones mind. Actually this kind of information is feeded into persons mind from his/her environment. We come across this kind of information acquisition everyday. Advertising agencies have learned to take astonishing advantage of this kind of information acquisition. Most of the need for information arises due to the environment imparted acquisition of information. In the attention economies libraries need to exploit the available opportunities in the environment of the reader and create the new ones to assure the maximum utilization of their resources and for their sustained development.

In today’s world longer invisibility leads to permanent disappearance. Libraries being the part of modern society cannot be an exception of this phenomenon. There are number of competitors in the market trying to grab the attention of the people. Libraries will have to be a part of this competition. Along with building mega structures housed with books and journals and all kinds of information in variety of formats, contemporary conditions also demands from libraries to build mega strategies for attracting human attention.



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