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.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Information gluttony

Let us not mince words. For libraries in the 21st century, the situation is dire. The library as we know it was designed to meet the needs of a society whose chief information problem was one of scarcity . . . Libraries did a good job of meeting this need, but the radical changes of the past two decades have left traditional library practices behind. Information is no longer stored primarily in print formats; most published information is created and stored electronically - printing comes later if at all - and a tremendous amount of it is made freely available to the general public through the Internet. The defining characteristic of today's information world is not one of scarcity, but of glut.

Rick Anderson, "The (Uncertain) Future of Libraries in a Google World: Sounding the Alarm," in Libraries and Google, p. 33
This is the quote I've been thinking about as I continue to reflect on David Bade's paper on the future of cataloging. I think that the push to automate or otherwise speed the creation of metadata is in part an attempt to move from the famine to the feast. But as the slow food movement has made clear a efficiency in the production and consumption of food comes at a cost. Namely a loss of the cultural meaning of our food and ultimately a diminished pleasure in eating.

As I think about the future of information, I think it will be important for us to think about to create systems that continue to value the knowledge and wisdom that comes from the contemplative interaction with information. Just as it is important for us to take seriously and respond the incredible growth in the amount and availability of that information. I think Anderson is right that the future of libraries is uncertain. We need to respond - the question is how.

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