Ruminations on Aggregation

This past week we’ve been discussing Aggregation.  At the beginning of this module, the first thing that came to mind is RSS feeds and Google Reader, though it was interesting to be exposed to a broader set of aggregation tools (Symbaloo, NetVibes, Moodle) and see the different contexts in which the word aggregation itself may be applied. In fact, as Rachel blogged, librarians are essentially (human) aggregators if you consider the subject guides, reading displays, and web pages we create by gathering and sharing resources. In the forums, we also discussed the difference between being an aggregator and pushing aggregated content.

One of the discussion threads that caught my attention was a fellow classmate’s reluctance to embrace aggregation tools. I’m paraphrasing here, but his argument was basically the process of collecting disparate content through a single interface will frequently compromise the full functionality of the original application. I agreed with him and expressed my similar skepticism with one-stop web portals, basically arguing in favour of libraries pushing aggregated content rather than aiming to create a aggregator interface (like NetVibes) that collects widget versions of other sites. Ironically, I find such applications to increase the sense of information overload rather than manage it. I liken it to staring at a wall of computer screens showing hundreds of different websites at once. Each small screen doesn’t do justice to the full site.

That’s not to say Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and Virtual Learning Environment (VLEs) don’t have their place.  Stating the obvious, PLEs may prove useful depending on one’s personal learning style, though admittedly I wasn’t exposed to one that appealed to me. A VLE such as Vista has affordances that make it suited to an online course like this (progress tracking, a private walled environment, aggregating capabilities). However, in both cases a quote from this Lorcan Dempsey article Always on: Libraries in a world of permanent connectivity rings true:

“The university, library, or work environment can no longer expect to provide a more sophisticated digital environment than that which is available in the general consumer space; in fact, the formal learning or work environment may appear increasingly clunky beside the social networking and consumer sites which increasingly set our expectations.”

Basically, I think libraries should focus on creating and allowing their content to be accessible through a variety of aggregated platforms instead of being locked in to a single interface.  Allow users to handle and view content on their own terms.

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