Saturday May 05, 2007

Talking In The Library


I'm seriously behind in my blogging; my desktop is a scatter map of stickies (both the 3M and the MacOS kind). Planning for Sun's 2008 fiscal year, a few trips to California, and my son's Bar Mitzvah soaked up a lot of the time that would normally be spent hashing the English language into blog entries. So here's part one of catching up on the podcast, prompted by finding the (pictured) caret in an infrequently used piece of luggage.

Two months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Stanford's Michael Keller about the future of libraries. I used the branding redirection as a misdirection; we ran the podcast covering Honeycomb, tagging, references and lots of copies only last week. It's fun to talk about libraries, and not just talk in them (without getting caught).

The somewhat rhetorical question is: when you have Google, who needs a library? The answer is that when you have Google, you need libraries and the organization they impose to an even greater extent. Some of the best memories I have of Princeton University involve libraries, either as a social setting (so if you have instant messaging, who needs the reserve room?) or a place to discover some layer of meaning beneath whatever was on my dorm room's desktop. Libraries exist to preserve our collected output, not in a jumble but in a semblance of order. The emphasis isn't just on imposing order; it's equally important to preserve what we know, particularly as content is kept in digital form and one truly egregious data center failure can wipe out some of those layers. That's the whole point of the LOCKSS project.

Libraries and the increasingly web-savvy librarians who run them also provide a critical foil to our increasingly search-driven culture: they tell us what we don't know. Using Google means you probably know the rough shape of the answer, and are looking for the box in which it is delivered to you. Using the library means you may not even be sure of the question, but you're eager to ask.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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