If we’re feeling overwhelmed by all the relatively new tools and theories out there—podcasting, Cascading Style Sheets, and Experienceology come to mind—and wondering why we should be interested, we might find solace in the familiar truism that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Reading Jean Freer’s “Louder Please” (Libraries & the Cultural Record, Fall 2006) and Vannevar Bush’s classic piece “As We May Think” from the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly suggests that facing up to and mastering the jargon and technology of our times is a never-ending challenge with ample rewards.
Freer, in examining American librarianship from 1926 through 1956, documents how “librarians struggled to define their role amidst competition from new media and information providers.” As we read about arguments as to whether phonograph records, films, and radio and television programs even belonged in library collections, we might look with longing at what feels to be a quaint debate—and then we have to wonder whether questions about the role of podcasting, Cascading Style Sheets, and Experienceology might be equally quaint to people looking back at us 30, 40, or 50 years from now. And just as Freer documents how “public and academic librarians produced films to promote their libraries” 50 to 80 years ago, we can already document how staff of libraries throughout the United States are producing podcasts with the same goal in mind. And much, much more.
Turning to Vannevar Bush, we find a great, imaginative, and creative mind writing at the end of the Second World War about someone who is “staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear.” Bush, as many readers probably know, described in great detail and with incredible prescience, ways of storing an entire encyclopedia on a device the size of a matchbox—flash drives, anyone?—and imagined a device (the “memex”) where we could “turn the crank” and produce exactly the information we were seeking—do we, between the lines, hear the birth of computer workstations connected to the World Wide Web, but without the crank?
What must have seemed absolutely fantastic in 1945 is commonplace and hardly fodder for conversation now: a “web of trails” which became our World Wide Web; a memex which in many ways is not too far removed from our typical computer workstation; “repositories” which are our servers; a “transparent platen” on top of the memex which has become our scanner; and a system of jumping from one item to another as hyperlinks routinely allow us to do today.
And just as our predecessors had to learn about and absorb the changes they encountered in the past, we need to take advantage of the resources we have to stay current in our endeavors so we can better serve the library members and guests who come in search of the assistance we can offer.
Next: David Free and Practical Podcasting and Videocasting for Library Staff
Categories: Web 2.0