Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Enquirer - With so much info on phone, why huge library?

I came across letter to the editor in the Cincinnati Enquirer (The Enquirer - With so much info on phone, why huge library?) a little over a week ago, and I felt I needed to comment on it, but not without thinking about it a bit more.

At first, I was a bit miffed at Aaron Gillum. I thought, "Hey, you have no idea what you're talking about. Data isn't the beginning and the end of information. There's also interpretation, and people want money for that. Who's going to provide that for the people who have no internet skills or access? You? 'Hey, everyone who can't afford a Blackberry with a data service plan go see Aaron--he'll let you use his!'"

But then I looked a bit more closely at his argument, and at the library in question, and I did begin to wonder, "Do libraries have an edifice complex?"

Now, before you judge me, I do believe that Mr. Gillum is missing part of the point--unless you are ready to digest all of the data required to understand every complex issue in your life, you will probably want to peruse a book or two. Perhaps Mr. Gillum likes to read his books on his mobile phone. The typical book, however, makes for very difficult reading on today's computer screens and mobile phones, unless you're willing to shell out $400 for a Kindle. If you're going to get books, or Kindles, you'll need money--something that not everyone has an abundance of these days.

By the way, how will the taxpayers support Mr. Gillum's proposed 43,000 household network? Who will repair the laptops, train the 100,000 residents in their use, and replace those that are damaged or stolen? Where will they pick up their printouts--or should the state provide printers, ink and paper, too?

On the other hand, how will county residents access the news archives, local histories, and other information that has been gathered and even produced by Kentucky's librarians over the years? I don't believe that most people understand the scope of information that is available at their local library regarding local history and government. The internet is global and it's a wonderful way to communicate and store information, but history didn't start in the 1990's--there's a lot that came before it that impacts who we are today, and much of it is local.

I could go on, but I want to come back to my point about this "edifice complex." I think that part of the reason that taxpayers like Mr. Gillum think of libraries as they do relates to how libraries present themselves. We are so focused on getting them into the building that we don't always focus on the value that we add to the community by being who we are--librarians. We are (supposedly) information experts, and information is king in the new economy. So why aren't we making better headway?

I want to explore this a bit further in my next post, but I feel that the future of the library lies in organizing information in the local community more aggressively: stepping beyond the walls of our fabulous buildings and working with members of the community as they create the information that makes us who we are--information that Mr. Gillum failed to seek at his local library.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cancer Data? Sorry, Can’t Have It - New York Times

There was an interesting article in the New York Times today about health research and data sharing in the cancer research field (Cancer Data? Sorry, Can’t Have It - New York Times). The article discusses the reluctance of many researchers to share valuable data with other researchers. It seems to me that in an age where people collaborate to crack the genetic code, it is irresponsible to withhold data that could be used to help people suffering from cancer. It's this kind of selfish thinking that can contribute to our early extinction.