enter the cybrarian 12.18.2004, 3:02 PM
The recent buzz surrounding Google's library intitiative has everyone talking about the future of research, which inevitably raises the question: how will the digitization of library collections change the role of the librarian? I would guess that, far from becoming obsolete, their role will in fact be elevated in importance, if not necessarily in status. They could very well come to be our indispensible guides through the labyrinth - if perhaps invisible, engineering behind the digital walls.
It's also important to consider the question of visualization. When you run a search on Google you are given an enormous list. This is already deeply ingrained in the day-to-day business of finding information. But these lists are basically the electronic equivelant of scrolls, with the items algorithmically determined to be most relevant placed at the top. But sooner or later we have to admit that using scrolls for this kind of business is ludicrous. There has to be a better way of arraying these vast harvests of information in a way that allows the researcher to zoom across degrees of specificity and through associative chains of context and meaning. I see no reason why a search shouldn't take place in some kind of virtual library, emulating the physical architecture of research settings, and allowing for some of the associative or accidental echoes that so often enrich a paper trail blazed through a brick-and-mortar library. Or cannot knowledge resemble a tree, or an arterial matrix? Must we be bound to the scroll?
Returning to the question of the librarian's role, I recalled this passage from James J O'Donnell's 1996 paper The Pragmatics of the New: Trithemius, McLuhan, Cassiodorus:
"The librarians of the world have, moreover, already led the way, for academics at least, into the new information environment, not least because they are caught between rising demand from their customers (faculty and students) and rising supply and prices from their suppliers, and so have already been making reality-based decisions about ownership versus access, print versus electronics, and so on. In short, they are just now our leading pragmatists. Can we imagine a time in our universities when the librarians are the well-paid principals and the teachers their mere acolytes in a distribution chain? I do not think we can or should rule out that possibility for a moment"
Also, I found this on Searchblog. For a trip down memory lane, check out the original Google in the Stanford archives (click on picture to right). Unfortunately, although it seems interactive, a search just brings up a bunch of stylesheets.