Information and the Future

This is the blog of the Information and the Future task force of the Rolfing Library at Trinity International University. The IF task force exists to explore the role of libraries in the future of Christian higher education.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Antiquated technology

Wired's article on 100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About lists a whole host of resources and methods that were common in our generation, our parents generation, or even our grandparents generation, but, hey, times have rapidly changed.

For a good laugh and a trip down memory lane, have a look at this article.

Here are a few things from the list that relate to libraries:

Finding out information from an encyclopedia.
Phone books and Yellow Pages.
Newspapers and magazines made from dead trees.

Actually going down to a Blockbuster store to rent a movie.
Finding books in a card catalog at the library.
Libraries as a place to get books rather than a place to use the internet.
A physical dictionary — either for spelling or definitions.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How do we explain the value of the library?

In my last post I mentioned that Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon are each taking a different approach towards making money in this online tech economy. Namely:
  1. Microsoft: Software = Money
  2. Google: Services + Ads = Money
  3. Apple: Hardware = Money
  4. Amazon: Content = Money
I think these four options are similar to messages we send about the value of libraries. Libraries are valuable and should continue to be funded and used because...
  1. They create the metadata that facilitates finding and efficiently using information.
  2. They provide bibliographic instruction, reference aids and other user services.
  3. They build academic commons - spaces that encourage conversation and learning.
  4. They collect lots of valuable stuff that users need access too in order to learn.
The easy answer is to say that we do (or should do) all of these things. However as a response to both the general uncertainty about libraries continuing relevance and the competition for funding, I think libraries would do well to identify a core competency and focus our message around it. This does not abandoning the other listed items but it does mean relegating them to secondary status.

So which one to choose? I think the choice needs to be number 2. I believe we need to position ourselves as information experts who can help users understand and use all the information technology tools at their disposal. Of course the presupposes that we actually are information experts who have this knowledge - we may need to start by acquiring it. This will not be an easy position to market when simplicity and un-mediated access is the siren song of technology marketing but I think there is currently and likely will remain a need for educated guides to teach information skills and assist those who are awash in data to make sense of it.

Briefly reviewing the other options:
1. In the world of Google and Wikipedia it is hard to argue that librarians are necessary to find information (even if that is true at a deeper level).
3. Wonderful buildings are nice but seem like a shaky rock to build on as more things move online.
4. Some of us may indeed have collections that are truelly unique and of obvious value but as Google and others make millions of resouces available anywhere I think physical collections becomes a very hard point to sell (but thanks Anthony for trying!).


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Google announces OS plans

Google has announced plans to build an operating system based on it's Chrome web browser. You can read C-Net's coverage here and additional commentary here.

Reportedly the plan is to try to target the netbook market at least initially. One of the questions this raises is would you rather have an OS you pay for like Windows or one that uses advertising to offset at least some of the cost presumably like Google's OS.

I also think it is fascinating to watch MS, Google, Apple, and Amazon among others try to both anticipate the computer marketplace and manipulate it. Although a bit too simplified, I think fundamentally there are 4 different models in play for the future of IT.

Microsoft is a software company, Google is a service/advertising company, Apple is a hardware company, and Amazon is a content company. All are trying to make the case that their speciality is the piece of IT that is truly valuable and worth paying for/investing in.

We in the libraryland are also trying to figure out what is truly valuable (in the eyes of stakeholders) and how to position ourselves. Should we champion our software (Catalogs, Subject Headings, Call Numbers etc.); or our reference and instructional services? What about our "place" as an intellectual commons or do we focus on our collections?

I know the easy answer is to say yes to all of the above but when resources and attention spans are short - which vision do we push? What offering are we willing to stake our future on?

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Monday, June 08, 2009

New search engine

I was just reading this article about a new search engine that's supposed to answer your questions directly, instead of directing you to websites:
Like Google, Only Much, Much Worse

For example, you can ask the box office results for a movie, and it will give you the dollar amount. The problem that the article points out is that it's limited in its scope. It searches reference works like CIA World Factbook, U.S. Census reports, Wikipedia, and "about nine-tenths of what you'd see on the main shelves of a reference library." So it points out that it's not able to answer as many questions as a Google search can.

I find it interesting that this limitation is the same one that we have for our print reference collections. It is now sadly true that for many questions, you can't find the answer in a reference book and it's better to go to Google. (Reliability questions aside)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wikipedia hoax

Here's a new story about a hoax on Wikipedia:
Irish student hoaxes world's media with fake quote

A student posted a fake quote on Wikipedia about a musician who had just died. Several new sources picked it up and quoted it, before the student announced he had made up the quote. As the article notes, what is scary is that once these more "reliable" sources published it, it gave the quote added credibility. Someone maliciously making something up could then cite those as an authoritative source.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Slowing our patrons down

I thought this was an interesting paragraph from a recent ACRLog post:

For Abrams, it is all about the mystery. He says it “demands that you stop and consider - or at the very least, slow down and discover”. Isn’t that what library research is supposed to be about? You begin with a question to which the answer is unknown or uncertain. You don’t know how it’s going to end. Then you go through a process to collect the information needed to answer the question and resolve the mystery. Just like a good puzzle, in research you need to assemble the pieces correctly to discover the big picture. How do you communicate the natural enjoyment and challenge of the research process to a generation raised on the pursuit of spoilers and cheats? Taking the time to learn to research and then go through the discovery process, they must conclude, is for fools and suckers only.
This goes right along with some conversations we've been having in the library. I look forward to trying to think about practical steps we can take to make our library a place where the enjoyment, challenge, and pace of good research are all celebrated.

See also this ACRLog post on the new Kindle as a threat to libraries and possibly to the understanding of research espoused above. The "faster and easier" promise of technology involves trade offs that I think are rarely considered.

Now Twittering

Failing to post as regularly here as I would like, I've begun using Twitter. I (Matt) try to post the single most interesting thing I read in library blogs there each day. Feel free to check it out.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Google Books

A student just asked me if we would be subscribing to Google Books, so I was investigating to see if there have been more developments regarding this.

I came across an article where librarians are expressing concern about the possibilities, fearing that costs could be very high, and also issues with privacy:
Libraries skeptical of Google books settlement

Another article said that librarians are asking for a judge to monitor the settlement so costs don't become too high:
Libraries Ask Judge to Monitor Google Books Settlement

I didn't find anything that sounded like prices or details had been set yet. Has anyone else heard anything more?