Thursday, May 26, 2005

Libraries of the Future

Given the kinds of products and services predicted by Thornburg, by 2005 they may well be sailing and navigating through something more like CyberNet. Internet will be remembered as the horse and buggy of the global information sharing system. Visions of this electronic library, according to King (1993) include guidance for the searcher provided by artificial intelligence, expert systems, hypertext, knowbots and gophers. Visionaries, King reports, predict the following elements: without walls, seamless, transparent, a 'virtual reality'; global network or matrix of digital data, information and knowledge banks, warehouses, refineries, archives and repositories; broadband expressways for transporting multimedia in bits and bytes to end-users in distributed environments; artificial intelligence, expert systems, hypertext, gophers, client servers, WAIS servers, knowbots to navigate 'cyberspace'; 'just in time' delivery to universal scholarly workstations; independence from time and place constraints; gateways, doorways, windows and intelligent switches and links. King quotes Matheson's (1988) summary of the vision: The emerging goal is a seamless electronic environment in which individuals may access a variety of information and knowledge sources in a manner that is simple and easy, and independent of time and place and subject discipline, for the purposes ranging from augmenting and refreshing memory, to learning, decision-making, and creating or uncovering new knowledge. The words "independent of time and place and subject discipline" pose the greatest promise and the greatest threat. The new technologies promise to deliver information far from what we have called libraries. Many students already navigate online databases and explore CD-ROM encyclopedias at home. While this may liberate students and other information consumers in many respects, King is quick to point out that increased access does not automatically lead to insight or increased understanding. King outlines serious obstacles blocking achievement of the cyberspace dream and she suggests that some aspects of the dream may prove nightmarish. Fortunately for library media specialists, King sees their role as critical to a healthy future.

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