Magazine article Information Today

Internet Librarians Own the Future

Magazine article Information Today

Internet Librarians Own the Future

Article excerpt

One of the few things I have believed and said since the day I landed this dream job is that the future should belong to librarians and journalists. I reasoned that in the information age, the people who know how to sort through and find the best information and the people who know how to weave information into stories would be the winners.

Yet, it's hard to think of two other professions that feel more besieged by the change ushered in by new communications technologies. Nevertheless, I'm going to try to make the case that the things you have learned, the things you do each day, and the knowledge and principles your profession embodies have never been more needed.

First, let me walk through some history to see how we got to where we are.

Netscape Mosaic

On Oct. 10, 1994, Netscape's Mosaic browser was made available for free, in beta version, on a company Web site. If there was a moment that could be considered the dawn of the popular Internet, that would be it. That day, millions of people downloaded the browser and began to experience the World Wide Web (itself a little less than 2 years old) in a wholly new way.

Then the party really began to rock. It took radio 38 years to attract an audience of 50 million Americans. It took television 13 years. It took the Web less than 4 years from that date in October 1994 to hit the 50 million mark.

So, at the 10th birthday party for the Web, how are things going?

If Friday [Nov. 12] was like a typical weekday online, 68 million American adults (or about 56 percent of the U.S. Internet-using population and 37 percent of the entire adult population) logged online, and here's some of what they did:

* 58 million of those folks used e-mail.

* 38 million used a search engine (compared to 3.3 million who went (1) to a public library).

* 35 million got news (about half the number who got news on a broadcast or cable TV station, and about two-thirds the number of people who read a daily newspaper). Eventually the lines will cross. In fact, young home-broadband users are more likely to get the news online than from a print or broadcast outlet.

* 26 million checked out the weather.

* 15 million exchanged instant messages.

* 12 million did some online banking.

* 7.5 million got health information-three times as many who went to visit doctors or clinics or hospitals on that day.

* Finally, 1 million people did one or another of the following things: took an online class for college credit, researched their family's genealogy, gambled, and/or arranged a romantic date through an online service.

Another way to look at how the Internet has been woven into our economic, social, and civic life could be found in these realms:

* Our colleagues at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reported that 83 million people used the Internet to get news and information about the most recent election, a doubling of the audience from just 4 years ago.

* Our own research shows that 38 million have sent e-mail to government officials to try to influence policy decisions.

* 48 million have used e-mail recently for spiritual/religious discussion--many of them were making prayer requests or responding to prayer requests.

* 36 million have become members of online support groups.

* 9 million have made online donations to religious organizations--7 million have made political donations.

Then, there are the wholly new things that the Internet has enabled that have never quite been done--or certainly observed this way before. On Nov. 12, it's likely that:

* 5 million posted or shared some kind of material on the Web through blogging or other content-creating applications. A lot of new people are entering the civic commons through their creations online. Literally, anyone with a keyboard and a mouse, or a digital camera and a modem, can publish online. …

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