Posting to: human? More or less, by Glen Lowry.
A very interesting post, especially since I happen to be a librarian. In my experience, the moment you put something on the web, it begins to fall apart, to deconstruct. The ability to hyperlink from one bit of information to another bit of information tends to turn what had appeared to be a coherent unity, e.g. a newspaper, a journal, a book, or a library, into a myriad of separate bits of “information” reorganized in unpredictable and even bizarre ways. Some decry these bits as totally chaotic but others do not. I personally think that a debate over whether it is chaos or not is useless since I don’t see any possibility of anything stopping it for a long time to come. It is much more productive to figure out how to adapt to it.
Just as journalists have identified closely with their newspapers, librarians have identified very closely with their libraries. Therefore, they believe that a lessening in the importance of the “library” translates into a lessening of importance for themselves as well. But now with the decline of newspapers, we are beginning to see that it is important to differentiate between “journalism” as an endeavor, from the “reporter who works at a newspaper” as separate concepts, and therefore I believe it will be just as important to differentiate between “librarianship” and “a librarian who works in a specific library.” While I have no doubt that “journalism” and “librarianship” can survive and even flourish in the new environment somehow in all kinds of novel ways, I don’t know if “newspapers” or “libraries” will be able to adapt. This is a further example of the trend toward deconstruction that affects people’s lives and careers. I don’t know if this is such a bad thing although it is definitely disruptive.
Since the very nature of the “newspaper” has disintegrated beyond all practical recognition with tools like Google News, I believe it is safe to predict that “libraries” will disintegrate as well as projects such as Google Books (among many others) come online. It will be increasingly important for “those who practice librarianship,” i.e. experts in information retrieval divorced from any single source, to remain flexible and adaptable. It will be plenty of work to create new tools and techniques, but there’s nothing wrong with that.