As I was thinking about the rising popularity of social networks, the analogy of a small town came to mind. Facebook could be compared to the local pub, where friends meet to share jokes, small talk- or even grumble about personal problems. Twitter, then, might be more like the local library, because one can follow others on narrower topics and trends. The Internet, as a whole, has been compared to a library. Without a catalog system (Dewey Decimal System), however, it is often a huge chaotic mess!
“The Internet may be the world’s greatest library, but let’s face it – all the books are scattered on the floor.” ~D.C. Denison, Boston Globe
User-generated content has changed the way we communicate. Of course, the basic underlying needs to share our lives with each other remains. Obviously, spending too much time at the local pub (fb) can lead to trouble. Expanding our horizons beyond those who share our ideas (twitter) is important, too.
The randomness of social networks intrigues me. The more friends and followers one has, the more time must be spent to keep up or the more likely it becomes to miss something. So, posts become trivial. You might argue- yes but what’s wrong with trivial? Must everything be meaningful or educational? As a librarian, I have always believed that there are too many great books out there to waste time on the trivial, formulaic ones. I used to compare those to fast-food versus nutritious home-cooking (or maybe fine-dining, at times). But, I must admit there is truth to old proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Back to the comparison of Twitter to a library…
Growing up, a brick and mortar library was a highly respected place. A place one could revere with confidence for the authority of man’s highest achievements and traditions. The truths inside the library building were fixed, not fluid and ever-changing. Perhaps that confidence in a fixed grand hall filled with shelves was just an illusion. Nothing in life is ever really permanently fixed. We are all ever-changing, just as the formats of our words– both trivial and significant.
My favorite one of Ranganthan’s Five Laws of Library Science is “the library is a growing organism.” Circulation of books and materials is similar to the human circulation system. Another metaphor for the “growing organism” might be a garden, with the librarian tending to healthy plants by weeding and planting (acquisition of new materials). Books that are unused or unread have no place in a healthy library. Lev Vygotsky, in Thought and Word, discussed the idea of thought being “alive.” He stated that a “a word devoid of thought is a dead thing.” In other words, when a book is opened and read it comes to life.
If we apply the law of the library as a growing organism to the Internet, what metaphors might come to mind? The resources on the Internet are almost impossible to monitor for maintaining the health of the organism. Instead of a lovely garden, is this organism more like a growing monster? Working as a school librarian, I enjoyed my role as “gardener” tending the library. In the future, will the role of the librarian be more like a knight battling a dragon or perhaps a captain navigating through storms and giant waves to bring passengers to small islands of relevant high-quality information? Or, will there be so few passengers onboard who care about the quality and authority of information, librarians will be isolated on those small islands of academia or in the hushed halls of museums? I do hope they have a garden there.
When my daughter was studying the impact of the Internet on society, her college professor compared today’s world with the dark ages. He spoke of life before the printing press, when people had no access to information and were “in the dark.” Today we have access to way too much information, in fact we are drowning in it. Struggling with this overload of information (covered in water) is similar to being “in the dark.” I did not invent this concept. I didn’t even hear the professor’s discussion. When I googled the idea, I found an interesting article by Lawrence Murray.
One might find this idea alarming. Certainly this world has always been full of alarming ideas. Instead of crying out in fear, or wallowing in the negativity of what this world is coming to, I suggest focusing on what we can do to make the best of it now. By surrounding ourselves with positive people and thinking about helping educate the next generation, we join in a fight that has gone on for centuries. People have always worried about the youngsters. Instead of griping about the rising water, let’s work harder to make them lifeboats.