Magazine article Information Today

Life in a Dot-Lib World

Magazine article Information Today

Life in a Dot-Lib World

Article excerpt

The ultimate tipping point is upon us. It may even be behind us. That whooshing sound you hear is the winds of change. There are no more libraries in the future.

Sure, there is "library," a function, a collection of all available content, a universally available digital reality. Print is no longer an alternative chosen by the creators of content; it is an option chosen by readers. The demise of creator-controlled print creations began in the 1960s with the arrival of photocopying. The disintegration accelerated when periodicals became digital full-text objects.

Today, libraries license massive collections of periodicals from numerous publishers or data aggregators. Individuals may choose to browse through periodicals they purchase, largely to satisfy the need for letting editorial decision makers inform them about things they hadn't thought about. But when they go looking for something they have thought about, they end up with PDF files or print copies of separate articles, not with a pile of journal issues.

The disintegration of preformatted print has begun to extend to books. When (not if) Google Books finally starts to emerge at full strength, we will see how readers approach books when they can hop from chapter to chapter, page to page, and paragraph to paragraph. It will not be a book they are reading (from page 1 to page 346) but a collection of texts in a dynamic, fluid information environment, not unlike the web as seen by search engines. Readers will be "library-ing," not reading a book or journal article.

Over the Information Cliff

Hippety-hop. Hippety, ouch! I think I've accidentally hopped off an information cliff. These facts don't seem to match. In fact, they don't even seem very factual. Now what do I do? Where am I? It's starting to get dark out here. I'm getting scared.

What this poor soul obviously needs is a librarian, an information professional who can guide him or her out of the forest and away from the wicked witch's sinister cottage. First and foremost, if end users intend to acquire information by swimming through a lake of blended sources, they better be sure the sources have been vetted before entering the lake. Only rivulets, streams, and rivers bearing the pure water stamp should be allowed to accommodate info-seeking swimmers. But where are the EPA clean water inspectors for content?

Just Ask a Library

Mark Twain once said, "It's not what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." Actually, according to an introductory essay titled "On the Need to Know" by William Safire in The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge, the supposed Twain quotation came from a Twain contemporary, a humorist named Josh Billings. How did Safire find that out? Well, he called the Library of Congress. If you want to know something for sure, you should always call a librarian.

But what if the library isn't there anymore? What if a Google-born generation of executives to whom librarians report have decided that the web is enough, that the institutions they manage can't or shouldn't afford the expenses of traditional libraries or even not-so-traditional ones? Should we information professionals just stifle a sob or start to our feet in indignation at the lack of respect for our roles? Should we take our marbles and go home? Or should we still stand firm behind our professional ethics (not to mention our survival skills) and get to work building the universal library to succeed all the little ones? …

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