The article in the NYRB starts out:
Information is exploding so furiously around us and information technology is changing at such bewildering speed that we face a fundamental problem: How to orient ourselves in the new landscape? What, for example, will become of research libraries in the face of technological marvels such as Google?I have a friend who is very big on the Web 2.0 tools and there is certainly a facet to all of those applications / platforms / tools that might certainly contribute to the downfall of research libraries.
Back in the "dark ages" when I was getting my library degree, I took a class on reference. One of the classes focused on the use of online resources. Now there are multiple courses in the degree program that deal with online information and retrieval.
When I took my first job in archives, there were two computers (out of approximately 25 for a staff of about 30) that were connected to the Internet - and that was through a dialup connection to the University's servers. Nothing like loading a webpage (in 1994) and getting "[image]" and the text of the page (DOS browsers anyone?)
As mentioned before, I now work primarily with electronic records, having come from previous positions as a paper archivist. The electronic records program at my current employer has been around for more than 35 years and the need for preservation of electronic records is only becoming more and more important as the records continue to be generated in a variety of formats (Presidential email, anyone?)
The article mentions blogs, stating that "more than a million blogs have emerged during the last few years." Blogs are an electronic records as well. How are we preserving them? Where's the archive for them? I have recently been going back over my posts (more than 500 of them) checking them, retagging some, deleting some tags, checking hot links.
The problem here is, as the author points out, "Information has never been stable." There are still no lack of places that a researcher can go to look at information, but is it becoming easier to sit around in your underwear and Google the information you seek?
It is sort of the way I feel about newspapers. While I receive the RSS feeds for two newspapers that publish in areas where I used to live, I still like to READ the Washington Post everyday. I like the feel of actual paper in my hands. Mrs. BA is content to read the paper online, but I don't get the same out of that experience. Plus no funnies.
I used to work in a public library (long ago and far away). I was a page, and one of my responsibilities was periodically retrieving old magazines from the stacks downstairs based on a reference request from a patron. I also used to shelve books (you remember books, right? Hard things, paper inside, words on the paper?) and shelf read the library shelves (Hey, don't laugh, it was mind numbing, but you didn't necessarily get yelled at if you fell asleep).
The author of the article (nor am I prepared to) makes no stunning pronouncements. And yet, the question is out there. What will happen to the world's research libraries if we move toward an environment where everything is available online? Would all of the world's archives become like that dusty room where I used to fish out old issues of Consumer Reports? Let's hope not or we are all going to be in a lot of trouble.
I look forward to hearing your comments on this intriguing topic.