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.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Refections on the NGC4LIB discussion

"The library world is a) dying and b) not flexible enough to survive" thus wrote Alexander Johannesen while announcing his resignation from the library world.

This announcement was partially a response to a heated discussion on the NGC4LIB mailing list over the future of MARC which has morphed into (post resignation) a soul searching discussion of library science and artificial intelligence.

Some thoughts as I process this still ongoing conversation.

1. I sometimes think Johannesen is correct and the response from the traditionalist contingent does little to reassure me.

2. As a library world we still have a lot to learn about where technology is at and where it is going. As Jonathan Rochkind put it libraries are getting better at utilizing technology that is relatively simple and a few years removed from being cutting edge but we still aren't investing in the personnel necessary to take advantage of the sophisticated and advanced technology that government agencies, large software companies, and others are developing.

3. We still really haven't come to grips with what it means to have so many books fully digitized. There was the suggestion that only humans could identify which of the hundred of David Johnsons wrote a particular book. But then it was pointed out that computer analysis already could actually do this much more quickly then a human cataloger based on statistical analysis of the writing.

4. Although I don't have great confidence in the quality of current cataloging, still there is something unsettling about the automated alternative. Perhaps it is fear as others have suggested (fear of the unknown, fear of unemployment, etc.) but I think there is something else. Something about reducing text to data especially when mechanized seems threatening. I'm thinking that the very purpose of text (at least traditionally) is to be read and comprehended by another person not parsed and analysed for statistical patterns. I've also just begun finally reading Everything is Miscellaneous
and am still wrestling with the digital disorder described there. I'll need to continue reflecting on this and ...

5. Finally, it is interesting to me how the specter of religion has made a couple of fleeting appearances in the NGC discussion. It is a reminder that underneath the discussion of organizational methodology and techology there are larger questions about the type of universe we live in and the purpose (or lack thereof) of that universe.

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