“Digital Library” is a metaphor: what happens when we think about that?
Metaphors have been much discussed in the field of human computer interaction. Researchers have debated whether designing metaphors into interfaces are helpful, empowering, confusing, or limiting. Interface metaphors are sometimes seen as a crutch for less technical people to get to grips with a complex database, or a set of training wheels to help people learn effectively and build confidence. But cognitive linguists remind us that we all use metaphors all the time. What happens if we hold the metaphor mirror up to our own faces as Digital Library designers, developers and researchers? What are the metaphors that we use, often without even noticing? Which alternative metaphors might we try on like a new hat that could help us get our thinking out of a rut? Can different metaphorical spectacles help us see an intractable problem in a different way? Do our metaphorical blinders prevent us from noticing opportunities – or the ways that designed systems, structures and metrics may be nudging us with various carrots and sticks? Do we even notice when perverse incentives turn our research practices into pretzels? Can metaphor analysis shine a light on why we do what we do and help us notice a path less travelled that might lead to buried intellectual treasure?
Trying out different metaphors, playing around with them, combining and tweaking them can provide different perspectives, reframings, design solutions, maybe even reveal new research avenues. This kind of metaphor juggling can be a rapid low cost way of creatively prototyping ideas, rather like we use other tools to rapidly prototype designs. Can thinking about metaphors be a useful, rather neglected tool in our intellectual toolbox to promote research creativity and innovation? Maybe playing with metaphors can help us to ask better questions about what we are doing, how, and why – and to reconsider what we might do instead that would do the most good.