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Magazines > Online > Mar/Apr 2005
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Online Magazine

Vol. 29 No. 2 — Mar/Apr 2005

The HomePage
Ownership, Access, Retrieval, and Sharing
By Marydee Ojala
Editor • ONLINE

To research a school project when I was a teenager, I traveled across town to the "big" public library (as opposed to my school and local public libraries). There, I was astonished to encounter closed stacks. It had never before occurred to me that libraries wouldn't want patrons wandering among the collection, finding interesting reading material. Today, it seems even more anachronistic.

A decade later, enrolled in a library school just down the street from the "big" library, I discovered electronic access to information and a thing called Dialog. Suddenly, I could reach my electronic hand behind the librarians guarding those closed stacks and pull out data. Granted, at that early stage in online development, I couldn't download the full text of the books on the shelf; I couldn't even get the full text of a journal article. It wasn't all that long in coming, however. Online databases soon expanded to include access to the full text of articles from many sources, company directories, and government documents.

As access expanded, retrieval took center stage. Information retrieval in the 1980s and 1990s was synonymous with online searching. Even then, however, some realized it wasn't just about search and retrieval; it wasn't about sending out the rescue dogs; it was about finding stuff—stuff that people wanted to find. Stuff that wasn't necessarily the full text of published documents.

The early days of online, I now realize, were somewhat akin to closed stacks. You had to subscribe and take extensive training courses—Dialog's introductory one was a day and a half, as I recall. That created a group of intermediaries who were almost always librarians. Odd, librarians moved from keeping people out of the stacks to standing between them and their access to electronic information.

Today, the online environments that stressed ownership, collections, access, and retrieval have been irretrievably altered. Today, it's about sharing. Collaboration tools are in vogue. Online discussion lists and blogs encourage the sharing of thoughts, opinions, expertise, and even links to journal articles. Desktop search tools, as discussed by Cindy Chick in this issue, enable us to combine Web searches with information on our desktop. Kim Guenther, in her column, points out that it's OK for multiple people within an organization to share the Webmaster job title.

As information sharing supplants owning, accessing, and retrieving it, I think the essential role of the information professional is vindicated. After all, isn't sharing information what librarianship is all about? Procuring information to share freely among user populations is the underlying ethos of librarianship. Whether it's a public library book collection, an academic library's e-journal collection, or a corporate digital library, sharing of information is integral to the process. It's nice to know that information professionals are not only participating in the new online world, but that our philosophy is its guiding principle. We are the thought leaders of the information-sharing age, essential to the new online world.


Marydee Ojala [marydee@xmission.com] is the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to marydee@xmission.com.

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