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‘Cyberevolution’
By
Volume 39, Number 5 - September/October 2015

Now isn’t that a handsome new word? The dictionary defines a neologism as “a new word, meaning, usage, or phrase or the introduction or use of new words or new senses of existing words.” It even extends the definition to “a new doctrine, especially a new interpretation of sacred writings.” Naturally, modesty prevents me categorizing my meanderings as “sacred writings,” but at least that’s closer to the truth than the last definition option—“a new word, often consisting of a combination of other words, that is understood only by the speaker: occurring most often in the speech of schizophrenics.”

But let’s quickly leave the subcategory of psychiatry and get back to the concept of cyberevolution. Creating a neologism is fun, especially when you can add a little insightful subtlety. How do you pronounce the new word? Do you assume an invisible hyphen and link “cyber” with “evolution”? Or do you assume an invisible “r” and conjoin “cyber” with “revolution”? Or do you treat the uncertainty as evidence of the changeable dynamic of the phenomena being described?

One of the advantages of a long career is seeing patterns in experiences extending over long periods of time. When online information retrieval began way back in the 1960s and 1970s, the systems were labor-intensive (horrifically so by today’s standards), rigidly complex, and required qualified professionals to conduct the searches. Of course, the expenses involved in such systems meant that the services were strictly B2B and not for the public. Slowly, more and more people gradually became exposed to the advantages of online retrieval. Customers using the retrieved data began to wonder if they could do the searching themselves some day. Searching for purposes outside of business interests began to seep into the process. In my experience, the most frequent “over the line” searching involved Medline, with clients requesting searches for the personal welfare of themselves or their families. A librarian at a national television network’s news operation told me how the attractiveness of a LexisNexis database that could locate practically anyone and anyone’s neighbors led to her losing one of her dedicated LexNex terminals as a national news anchor had it hauled away to his office to play with.

And then there were the other technological bombs ticking away in the background—the ultimate apps, email, and word processing—bringing enabling equipment onto more and more desks. The networking involved in email introduced the same connections that could support online searching. The content creation from word processing moved “real people” into searching their own files with simplistic but still often effective search tools.

The classic pattern emerged of a high-priced, niche market technology proving so attractive that it expands beyond the niche and gradually lowers its prices while increasing its usability in order to reach a mass market. How many, many times we’ve all seen that happen. It’s almost an eternal verity. Look at film/television recording technology, first available only to television production businesses and now available on every television in the land. Sadly, one might even consider terrorism as an example of the technology of war moving from affordability only by nation-states to the hands of individuals. Not that one should grow melancholic over Defense Department technology. After all, Amazon has promised its Amazon Prime Air will deliver goods in half an hour and Google Project Wing has tests underway in Australia. The technology? Drones. Consumer drones already have provided last year’s Christmas present to a dear relative. And none of us information professionals can forget that the internet itself emerged from ARPAnet, a service provided by the agency now known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

So what’s on the burners now? What cyberevolution technologies are starting to change the world in which we live and the profession in which we serve? Social networks and mobile computing seem to dominate. How will they affect the way we serve our clients? The most interesting angle to me is the intimacy of the services, the connections built between individuals. Already we see personal services by “real people” for “real people” taking off as online realities. Uber is the one that rather shocks me. Taking a ride from a stranger. I don’t know about what your mother told you, but mine was rather clear about it. HomeAdvisor.com and Angie’s List and countless other services will send individuals right into your home with live services. It’s not just Twitter doing breaking news posts or Facebook profiles. We’re talking head-to-toe live bodies delivered from an online connection. Scary? Yes. Exciting? Yes. But if Match.com can set you up with a potential marital partner, what else can you expect?

But how does this affect librarians? It makes the demand for online-and-beyond interaction all the more imperative. Networks of librarians now support pro-to-pro interactions at a rather basic level with listservs and blogs and social network groupings. But isn’t the time way overdue to move this to a pro-to-client, pro-to-patron level? First and foremost, we should recognize that librarians are not interchangeable as light bulbs, sharing a common and relatively low-grade skill base. When we use our own networks, we recognize which route will lead to the best in the field. When we get familiar with a net service, we quickly come to know the members who know the most, have the best connections, are friendliest in offering help and support. We should find a way to build a service that provides the same “best of breed” service to patrons, that connects people with specific problems to people who can best solve those problems.

And, of course, being librarians, we will find ways to record the comings and goings, to archive answer paths, to reach out and extend answers even to people who have not yet asked the questions. Associative technology, after all, has grown commonplace—“People who ordered X, also ordered Y.” Let us explore all the connections we can produce, and integrate this with the people-to-people technologies now emerging everywhere.


Barbara Quint is senior editor of Online Searcher, contributing editor for ITI's NewsBreaks, and a columnist for Information Today.

 

Comments? Contact the editors at editors@onlinesearcher.net

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