Following my recent post about search, there were some very interesting comments. Some suggested the emergence of new tools that are better at helping us find what we are looking for, by providing richer context and colour to the information. Some suggested that as we get better at defining who we are and what we are doing, as we get better at role and context definition, we will get better at finding things. Some suggested that the fault, dear reader, is not in our stars (or other wild cards) but in ourselves; that we should get better at defining what it is we are looking for. Some likened search to library visits, and moved from there to the role of librarians and the social engagements that take place, and on to the motives.
Great comments for which I am truly grateful, and there is work for me to do in following them up.
But in the meantime. I’ve been musing.
There are a number of critical differences between the physical libraries of yore and the digital library that is the web. I think there is a way of categorising them:
- Time. Libraries are static. The web is live.
- Shape. Libraries have books and magazines and CDs and DVDs and tapes and a few other things. The web has all of these, sound, picture, video, text.
- Location. Libraries are physically located in particular places. The web is everywhere and global.
- Scale. Libraries contain a discrete and finite number of items. The web is infinite.
- Classification basis. Libraries rely on Dewey and its extensions. The web relies on tags.
- Nature. When you take a book out of a library, it is with you and not with the library. When you take something out of the web, it is still there.
- Speed of change. Libraries measure their purchases and their culling and their weeding in months. The web does it in seconds.
I could go on, but that’s not the point.
The point is that the web is live.
So we need livebrarians. Part bookseller, part journalist, but primarily librarian. Librarian of something that is live.
And guess what? We have livebrarians. All over the place. Every webmaster is a livebrarian, every blogger is a livebrarian, every creator of “UGC” is a livebrarian.
- They do a number of librarian-like tasks which may not be that well understood or appreciated.
- They categorise, using tags. This helps others find them.
- They point out where things are by linking to them.
- They go out looking for new things and make sure that the new arrivals are shown as such.
- They take care of the old things and prune the stock as needed.
- They even review things and comment on them, much like you have “staff picks” in libraries and bookshops
The libraries we have are new, a different paradigm. The tools we have are not yet fully fit-for-purpose, we’re still building out the library. But the tools are getting better. The librarians we have are a different breed, but they exist.
And our readers are different as well. Now they can tear things out of books, scribble on them, mix the pages up, throw them up in the air to see if they land buttered side first.
And they can write as well.
Kids are allowed to make noise. In fact everyone’s allowed to make noise. There are no SILENCE signs in the web.
We have to get better at using the tools we have. Particularly with tags and with microformats.
We have to get better at telling people what new tools we need. Because we’re the authors, we’re the borrowers, we’re the lenders and we’re the librarians. If not us who?
And we have to ensure that our new libraries have no termites or woodworm or silverfish or damp or dry rot.
Otherwise called bad IPR and bad DRM.