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.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Google, Amazon, and Libraries

I wanted to share a couple of blog post that have caught me eye recently.

In this post Karen Coyle discusses the future impact of Google books on libraries now that they've settled with publishers. She asks if administrators and government officials will be able to tell the difference between Google books, which promises instant access to 7 million volumes and counting, and libraries. Other than the obvious difference that Google books is bigger and likely to seem cheaper than most libraries.

In a different post Jim Stogdill ruminates on Kindle, Google, and the end of history. He theorizes that we are becoming so accustom to instant information that if something does not exist in digital form, it simply does not exist. He thinks we are losing the will and the skills to track down information in dusty physical world.

These posts lead me to reconsider the idea that libraries are primarily about providing access to information. If that is true we are losing badly to the Googles and Amazons of the world. I think we need to re-articulate are role as the owners and preservers of information. We collect materials and that is an important task.

Second, I think we need to start a serious conversation about what information is and why it is important. Is all information equal? What is the relationship between information and reality? How does information help us or further our education? Is the process by which we obtain information significant - why or why not? Is information more like a common tool or a priceless treasure?

How we answer these questions will go a long ways toward helping us decide if paying for a librarians, library buildings, and library collections is a good investment or if we should accept the "every book available to download in 60 seconds" promise of Amazon.

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  • At 5:06 PM, Blogger Rebecca said…

    I was reading something recently that was talking about the future of libraries - and it was still seeing an archival function to libraries. A library's role would be to preserve some of the online information that could quickly disappear. Ironically, in the future it's possible that older materials on scrolls and books might be more preserved and available than some of the online information.

    I think some of the libraries are doing that in their agreement with Google books - they get electronic versions of the books Google scans from their collection. They are then keeping their own online collections of those books.

    But archiving a lot of the information available online seems like a daunting task. And I wonder if it is another task that would actually be better accomplished by technological means - another project for Google?

  • At 5:09 PM, Blogger Rebecca said…

    Something else I read recently in "Born Digital" talked about a philosophy toward information called the "democratization of information." This is an open market view, that says that the more information available the better, and then through market forces (people's choices) the best information would rise to the top.

    But the author made the point that you can't decide if something is good until you read it. So many people won't go through all the effort of sifting through multiple resources to find the best.


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