Librarians will inherit the world!

Neko getting 'stuck into a book' in the Bavarian State Library
Neko getting 'stuck into a book' in the Bavarian State Library

I am writing this post in my college library and that seems very appropriate as I want to share my theory that librarians will inherit the earth. Why you ask? Because they know how to manage information; they know how to store and label it, and even more amazingly find where they put it! (I speak of these skills in a hushed and awed tone.) The ability to manage information is becoming an ever higher art form as we move deeper into the surging tide of words, numbers, and pictures.

And another thought, as I sit amongst the book stacks, is that much of academia is floundering through an identity crisis. The golden crown has slipped awkwardly over the eyes of the emperors of knowledge. Academics are falling behind the curve as they struggle to maintain traditional learning environments where matters move at a controlled, slow pace. Take a look at Fleep’s Deep Thoughts where she describes waiting for the peer review process and publication of her paper to take place. My university is struggling under financial burdens (like most universities nowadays) but here things have been made more complicated due to the building of a huge new dorm, and a giant commuter’s car park. Both buildings represent the old world of higher education. That is, dorms and car parks are not necessary when students are opting to save fuel and environmental costs by working online. I am not saying that online education is better, not yet anyway, as it is going through its own identity crisis/teething problems. Many educators don’t dare to be imaginative online, but then, were they imaginative in the classroom either? Educational management systems, like BlackBoard, and to a lesser extent Moodle, are restrictive mediums making you feel as though you are teaching, and learning, wearing horse blinkers.

Bavarian State Library
English Neko looking for something to read in the Bavarian State Library

Today we need to know how to access relevant information quickly, while simultaneously applying critical thinking skills to determine the legitimacy, and relevance of the information once it is located. We also want to be able to return easily when we need it. Everyday we hear of new software designed to help us manage our masses of digital data. But, the trouble with all these data storage systems is that they deteriorate in efficiency after a certain amount of data has been entered. Its not the software’s problem, it is a human problem. When things drop from view (as they do when archived) they drop from being vivid and alive in our active memory.

I think that we cannot cope with more than 5 items of information before us. Why five? I chose that number because I have five fingers on one hand. My brain can manage 5 ideas, or pieces of data, without great effort. We can then expand upon each item with new sub-items and perhaps comfortably manage 10 of these sub-items (all our fingers). When we move to 20 (i.e. bringing in toe digits) we start to slip in efficiency of thought! (Our toes are below eye level, wrapped in shoes much of the time.) Nature’s portable abacus is efficient in its simplicity after all. If I was a flower I would go by the number of my petals, if I was a spider I would use my legs. Don’t take this too seriously though! The point is that we cannot manage reams of facts, ideas and data efficiently that’s all!

Laputa Library - The City in The Sky
Laputa Library - The City in The Sky

With computers we access everything through a flat screen. In a way this computer screen is like the slit of a letter box attached to a vast library that has a museum, sports stadium and shopping mall attached. Everything is seen through this tiny narrow window and we move the information around remotely, as though it was attached to an old typewriter’s silver golf ball. We don’t move, we spin the world around before us. This makes information management trickier as everything must always be accessed from this one narrow perspective… Well, that was until the 3D virtual world popped up on the other side of the window!

Now, we have the potential to arrange all our information spatially as well as logically. The buzz for cyberspace travelers, interested in virtual worlds, is the idea of virtual desktops. We will one day be part of a huge peer networking system where we can travel to each others desktop worlds for virtual meetings etc. I wonder though, when this information management revolution takes place, will we be so short sighted and stick to the desktop metaphor? I plan to have my very own virtual library. Forget the front door step give me the universe!

Perhaps we will then advance another step with our personal libraries? We will have librarian bots (with Social Presence) who respond to our questions, just as the Librarian described in Neal Stephenson’s ‘Snow Crash’:

The Librarian daemon looks like a pleasant, fiftyish, silver-haired, bearded man with bright blue eyes, wearing a V-neck sweater over a work shirt, with a coarsely woven, tweedy-looking wool tie. The tie is loosened, the sleeves pushed up. Even though he’s just a piece of software, he has reason to be cheerful; he can move through the nearly infinite stacks of information in the Library with the agility of a spider dancing across a vast web of cross-references. The Librarian is the only piece of CIC software that costs even more than Earth; the only thing he can’t do is think.

“Yes, sir,” the Librarian says. He is eager without being obnoxiously chipper; he clasps his hands behind his back, rocks forward on the balls of his feet, raises his eyebrows expectantly over his half-glasses.” (p99.)

Links to locations mentioned above. (All locations to be found in Second Life™)

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Bavarian State Libray

Laputa Library – The Sky City, The Treasured Isle

Sorry all links have to be put at the end of the post not with the pictures because this WordPress.com design is having a problem!

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