Internet Librarian: Libraries in a Time of Plenty

By Janes, Joseph | American Libraries, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Internet Librarian: Libraries in a Time of Plenty


Janes, Joseph, American Libraries


Don't be misled by the title of this month's column. I don't have a new crystal ball or a magical version of Google that can tell the future (though how far away can such a screenplay be?); if I did, I'd use it first to see when the Mariners might have another winning season (sigh).

Sadly, the "plenty" I'm thinking of here isn't in terms of resources used to support or staff a library, but rather in terms of resources at hand for people to satisfy their information needs. You don't need me to tell you that those have expanded exponentially in the last decade--so much so that libraries are increasingly marginalized in the popular mindset. So I won't.

I will, however, as a public service, offer the following ripostes to those now-stereotypical questions: "What do we need libraries for? Isn't everything on the internet?" (Your mileage may vary, void where prohibited, don't take with alcohol, ask your doctor if these are right for you, blah, etc.)

* It isn't all on the internet. The pervasiveness of web-based interfaces to just about everything can and has easily led people to assume that all of it--library catalogs, licensed databases, electronic journals, and the other really expensive stuff we pay those big bucks for--is on "the internet." This creates an opportunity to discuss those treasures that lurk in hidden, privileged corners of your institutions that people would gawk at, and use, if only they knew they existed.

* Even if it was, you couldn't get at it. First of all, many sites have access restrictions, password barriers, registration requirements, and so on. Secondly, even the "free" Web is impossible to search in its entirety. All search engines are able to cover only a fraction of the number of sites on the Web, and thus all searches are inherently incomplete. And whatever happened to metasearching, anyway?

* Librarians are very cool. OK, this one may take some convincing. Think about it, though: We are people in and of the communities we serve. We explore new technologies and tell stories and assist in research and preserve resources for generations yet unconceived. And we do it all in an efficient and cost-effective way, providing a large net benefit to those who pay the bills. Hey--any profession that cheerfully embraces Nancy Pearl and Karen Schneider is clearly something to be reckoned with. …

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