Magazine article Information Today

".And You Will Sell Us the Rope"

Magazine article Information Today

".And You Will Sell Us the Rope"

Article excerpt

Back in the midst of the Cold War, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, sneering at the Western powers, once said, "We will hang you ... and you will sell us the rope. " For a philosophy based on economic determinism, it's amazing how willingly Marxism-Leninism's exponents would concede production superiority to their despised enemy, capitalism. However, they did recognize the pressure a surplus-ridden economy placed on political will. When you have so much rope in stock and so much more coming off the production line, you have to find someplace to sell it. Naturally, you wouldn't want to sell it to someone who intends to string you up in a tree, but what the heck-maybe just a short rope that won't fit over the branch, or even better, a very long rope that lets your feet reach the ground.

In any case, Khrushchev was wrong. Our side won; his side lost. On the other hand, the problems of disarmament in today's global world disorder have become so diffuse that the natural urge of free markets to sell everything they have to anyone with the cash, then make more to keep the cash coming, could produce conflict situations none of us wants to think about. So let's not. Back to Khrushchev's rope ...

The Answer Medium

The Net and its Web have clearly released technological, economic, social, and political forces that are changing the world. In our comer of that world revolution, we can see an emerging conflict affecting information industry vendors and librarians. Basically, the Web is becoming-or should I say, has become-the dominant information-seeking-and-retrieval medium: the Answer Medium. And that means that Web rules and Web ways prevail, if not today, then tomorrow-and early tomorrow at that.

Many factors create the Web's consumer appeal, but probably the greatest lies in its elimination of downtime. Information services that run off the Web operate 24/7. These days, any information service that wants to succeed or even survive has to meet that scheduling mandate. Clearly, there are only a handful of ways to meet this standard. One must hire a huge staff to work round the clock using very deep pockets, develop a highly sophisticated network of telecommuters, tap the staff of networked partner organizations, or combine one or more of these solutions. If you choose to network staff from partners, then you have to expect to carry the load that the partner's operations may impose on your operation. Bottom line: 2417 means a significant demand on resources, a burden only large organizations could successfully meet over time.

Or is there another way? The Web itself is already 24/7. So if you could anticipate all the questions users might have and prepare the answers in advance, a sophisticated, comprehensive Web site could solve the 24n problem. "Anticipate all the questions? Have all the answers prepared in advance? Sure!" I can hear readers sneering. Librarians have the broadest mandate of any information professional. Meeting the full challenge of their professional commitment would mean answering all questions from all comers. Back in the 20th century, no one could reasonably expect librarians to reach such an exalted goal. But the Web has changed that, too. Now we do have a medium that can gather questions from all comers-or all Webbed comersand deliver answers anywhere.

The Virtual Library

We all know what's coming. Out of today's hurly-burly, fretting and fuming, hustle and bustle will emerge tomorrow's Virtual Library, a Web-based, relatively seamless network of information sources that can answer any question (within varying lengths of time), with the only barrier lying in the user's lack of resources in money, time, skills, and equipment.

The Virtual Library will have all the features offered by traditional libraries and a lot more. It will supply any and every book, via commercial concerns like Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, BookSense, VarsityBooks, etc. and Steve Coffman's Earth's Largest Library (http:#www. …

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