Friday, April 30, 2010

RE: If Academic Libraries Remove Computers, Will Anyone Come?

Posting to NCG4LIB

Unfortunately, I think I have to agree completely with Peter and the assistant university librarian at the U California/Santa Barbara, who think that if you took the computers out of the library, numbers in the library would be cut by half. Computers are a major draw anywhere on campus. Mobile computing is now the big thing, and especially so here in Italy, where it seems that everybody has at least one cell phone. I remember when a student said she was having trouble finding a book, and asked where it was and she showed me the record in our library catalog on her mobile phone. It looked horrible! I confess that I haven't found the energy to attack this problem and have preferred to ignore it... but when I see predictions such as mobile computing in one year, http://wp.nmc.org/horizon2010/chapters/mobile-computing/ while I don't think it's particularly true, it frightens me.

Every student has a laptop, but they don't want to lug them around. A smaller, lighter device would change everything.

Of course, use of the library space has little relation to use of the "library". People may come to the library to study, or check their email, or just hang out, while you can now use the materials available through the library virtually. Still, places to hang out or study do not have to be in the library.

For these reasons, and the eventual approval of the Google-Publisher agreement, I fear that *physical* libraries are doomed to eventual extinction. The idea of "use of the library" must change in relationship to this. Physical libraries will most probably gradually turn into archives that will be consulted rarely, updated and maintained to ensure against protection against some sort of catastrophe.

I've already written of my own experiences and thoughts concerning ebook readers and what it means for libraries. Does all this mean that librarians also have to disappear as well?

I don't think so, because in my experience, information does not organize itself, although it seems some on this list feel that something magical exists: what I call "the Philosopher's Algorithm." They feel that there is "the Perfect Algorithm" out there somewhere and it only needs to be found. Once they have it, they can run this algorithm against vast unorganized masses of information, and "the Algorithm" will organize it. I see this as similar to the alchemists who promised so much and searched so diligently for the Philosopher's Stone. :-)

But while we lack such a tool, unless we want to put our faith in the Google-type "black box," it will fall to humans to organize information, additionally I think we must assume that finding information that is both relevant and reliable will never be easy and people will need help. Almost all of these tasks will take place in a virtual environment, and the practice of librarianship has always been a personal, social activity. These are some difficult problems to wrestle with.

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