The Digital Transition: Everything is Miscellaneous
On March 11, 2009, Dr. David Weinberger, in a talk to HLS librarians, argued that society is moving to a post-print and post-librarian knowledge world.
Dr. Weinberger asserted that knowledge will be made increasingly digital (and therefore more accessible). He further argued that knowledge will become increasingly less messy. He believes tagging will free society from the “mess” created by imperfect classification schemes (including the semantic web).
According to Dr. Weinberger, knowledge will be so easily findable and accessible that librarians will be irrelevant in the future. He did not provide a timeline; however, he did agree that librarians will be useful in the short term (perhaps to develop tagging systems). I agree with Dr. Weinberger.
Similar to Dr. Weinberger, John Palfrey, in Born Digital, argues that libraries need to shift away from print. (Young people are comfortable accessing knowledge online, using various technologies.) Palfrey, however, believes that reference librarians (and libraries) will continue to remain relevant; students will continue to need help sorting the knowledge morass – the mess.
Palfrey (and Urs Gasser) found that “digital natives,” individuals born after 1980, access (digital) knowledge with ease. For example, they may access several online news outlets in one day, and even post comments in response to knowledge. However, digital natives may also over-rely on limited sources like Wikipedia. Currently, the native’s online search skills are not evolved.
Dr. Weinberger argues that the future is tagging. This nascent democratic institution will allow individuals to better connect concepts to knowledge. Knowledge will therefore be more findable, obviating the need for search skills.
I look forward to this future, when law professors no longer need a librarian to retrieve court documents or find historical data on the Hong Kong stock exchange – or even to borrow a book from the library across town.
I look forward to this future, when law students no longer need help finding primary and secondary legal materials. Legal materials will no longer be obscured by citations and other classification schemes.
Mere words in a box will retrieve everything – from the text of Moby Dick to the story of Melville’s relationship with Hawthorne. In the future, libraries will only be physical space where students can study and collaborate.
Of course, I look further ahead to a time when social networking technology will allow these same students to most effectively collaborate remotely through blogs and wikis and Twitter – and yet heretofore seen technologies. Students will no longer need physical library space. Most already prefer to study at the cafÃ©.
In my future, physical universities will likewise become irrelevant. Students and professors will convene at the cafÃ©. There, from their iPhones, they will be able to teach and publish and collaborate. Dr. Weinberger will no longer need to walk down the hall to confer with colleagues; he will be able to share knowledge with eminent sociologists while in line for an espresso. (Personally, I could have attended law school with digital lectures, whether on YouTube or otherwise.)
In conclusion, I agree with Dr. Weinberger: Librarians will no longer be relevant in a post-print world.