Reading Online: Adrift on the Sea of Knowledge

BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google - John Palfrey

John Palfrey, former dean of the Harvard Law School Library and among the founders of the Digital Public Library of America, writes some very compelling and interesting material here about the continued importance and need for libraries in our fast-changing digital world. While not a trained librarian himself, Palfrey rights of the importance of continued cooperation and resource sharing between librarians and other professionals in the information, technology, and education worlds, among other topics. His writing is appropriately accessible and smooth, making BiblioTech a pretty fast read, even with a lot of rich discussion. While not a "rose-tinted" look at libraries, he does talk a lot about some of things we, as librarians and library workers, can do to strengthen this relevance in the digital world.

As a librarian myself with background in various disciplines of library science in both academic and public environments, in cataloging, archives, and reference, a lot of what Palfrey writes about here resonates with me. With the growing prominence of digital resources and the ease with which they can be accessed, people can be easily cut adrift in this sea of information. Libraries are in a perfect position to guide and facilitate people through this quickly changing ocean of knowledge, as the purpose of the library has always been to preserve and disseminate knowledge to its patrons, whether students or the public. Young people, in particular, living in the midst of this change can benefit from the structure and openness afforded by libraries. Currently, I've been training in the Minneapolis Central Library's Teen Tech Center, a dynamic emerging space for teens to experiment and learn with information technology for artistic purpose. The 3-D printers, musical instruments, cameras, simple programming like Scratch, and many other activities available for free use by community youth, this is a program that has begun to evolve what is possible in libraries serving their mission to citizens, making some very interesting parallels with Palfrey's arguments. This is also evident in this recent article by Sonali Kohli that just popped up on my social media feed as well. Interesting how social media connects us even in the library!

Of course, as Palfrey points out, funding remains a major concern and impediment for completely integrating new technology into libraries, and how, worryingly, the for-profit sector is doing a lot more in this regard currently. What if much of the public is "priced out" of developing technologies, not to mention these corporate projects lacking many of the missions of libraries, such as preserving information. In one of the most interesting chapters, Palfrey discusses the problems of digital preservation and how to keep the vast amount of knowledge in "born digital" documents accessible in the future. The only issue with BiblioTech may be that it may be, more or less, preaching to the choir of library workers and other information professionals, but, especially in the closing chapter, there is a lot of good food for thought on how to express to the integral role libraries play, and will continue to play, in the community and how we can make sailing this sea of changing knowledge easier.