Earlier this year I was contacted by CTheory to find and interview interesting people that are doing work at the intersection of theory, digitality, and information. Michael Ridley, the Chief Information Officer and Chief Librarian at the University of Guelph, was the first person that came to mind. I met with Michael earlier this year for a face-to-face discussion, and our conversation has since been transcribed and published at CTheory. Below is the full introduction to the interview.
“… [O]ne of the things about librarians is that they’re subversive in the nicest possible ways. They’ve been doing the Wikileak thing for centuries, but just didn’t get the credit for it. This is what we try to do all the time; we try to reduce the barriers and open up that information.”
— Michael Ridley
Self-identifying as the University’s Head Geek and Chief Dork, Michael Ridley leads a life of the future by reconfiguring access to the past. As Chief Librarian and Chief Information Office of the University of Guelph, Ridley spends his days integrating digital potentialities and the power of imagination with the cultural and historical resources of the library. Seeing the digital as a liminal space between the age of the alphabet and an era of post-literacy, he is transforming the mission of libraries: gone are the days where libraries primarily focus on developing collections. Today, collections are the raw materials fueling the library as a dissonance engine, an engine enabling collaborative, cross-disciplinary imaginations.
With a critical attitude towards the hegemony of literacy, combined with a prognostication of digitality’s impending demise, Ridley’s position at the University of Guelph facilitates radical reconsiderations of the library’s present and forthcoming roles. He received his M.L.S. from the University of Toronto, his M.A from the University of New Brunswick, and has been a professional librarian since 1979. So far, Michael has served as President of the Canadian Association for Information Science, President of the Ontario Library Association, Board member of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, and Chair of the Ontario Council of Universities. He is presently a board member of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network and of the Canadian University Council of CIOs. He has received an array of awards, and was most recently awarded the Miles Blackwell Award for Outstanding Academic Librarians by the Canadian Association of College and University Libraries. Ridley has published extensively about the intersection of networks, digital systems, and libraries, including “The Online Catalogue and the User,” “Providing Electronic Library Reference Service: Experiences from the Indonesia-Canada Tele-Education Project,” “Computer-Mediated Communications Systems,” and “Community Development in the Digital World.” He has also co-edited volumes one and two of The Public-Access Computer Systems Review. Lately, his work has examined the potentials of post-literacy, which has seen him teach an ongoing undergraduate class on literacy and post-literacy as well as giving presentations and publishing on the topic.