Searcher The Millennium Issue Volume 8, Number 1 • January 2000

• SEARCHER'S VOICE •
Millennium Wish List
Barbara Quint Editor, Searcher


An old Spanish proverb says, “Lord, send us not the gift of getting what we want, but of wanting what we get.” Learning to adjust to the inevitable — like realities that change without asking your permission or, if they do ask, don’t wait for the answer — seems a wise and prudent policy. On the other hand, if you can’t tell a new Millennium where to get off, who can you tell? In any case, concentrating on preferences, hopes, and dreams for the future moves one off the much more perilous path of predicting that future.

What do we want from the years to come? What dreams do we wish could come true?

The whole world should go online. Some people estimate that as many as 1 billion of the world’s 6 billion people now have some form of access to the Internet and its Web. More conservative statisticians estimate some 150 million souls occupy the Global Village. Whatever the count, it isn’t enough. Of course, to bring people everywhere online, we have to make sure that people everywhere have the educational background to use and to take advantage of information tools. People everywhere should also have sufficient resources, influence, and autonomy to make decisions that can improve their lives and their communities.

Hmm. Is the tail wagging the dog here? Have ideals like freedom, individual rights, democracy, strong economies, and universal education become computer peripherals? Perhaps they will. The Internet has a curious habit of confounding the laws of man and nature. It empowers users, and from that sense of empowerment, who knows what wonders — and horrors — can grow?

Computers should become human. They have already begun to talk and listen. Soon they will learn to answer questions. They will acquire personalities, if only as humans “anthropomorphize” their life companions. As they perform more mundane tasks, computers will have to get friendlier, if only to maintain good channels of communication with users. Although few of us may want HAL in our homes, we might not mind having a nice invisible friend, one with a soft Majel Barrett voice like the computers in Star Trek.

In time, computers will learn to think. In time, they may become persons. A science-fiction fantasy? Of course. But somewhere out there R2D2 and C3PO await. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if humankind has begun a journey along a path that leads to the highest accomplishment in our universe — the creation of intelligent life? It could happen. After all, science fiction has a success record for predicting reality that is at least as reliable as that of think tanks.

Authors should become answerers. Why publishers anymore? Why not let authors communicate directly with readers? Then when users have questions or opinions or comments, they could address authors immediately and have a chance for a useful response. This would certainly help business and technical information usage, but it would also help policy planning and scholarship in general. Clarification, currency, customization of material to user needs — all these benefits would ensue. In fact, this would contribute to the mutual education of readers and authors both.

Of course, some functions currently provided by publishers would still need doing, but most of them could be jobbed out. For example, authors need editors. (Sorry, authors, I love you all, but you do need editing. Believe me!!) Readers need editors, too. An editor could work like a brand name in identifying quality sources, relevant topics, appropriate connections. Both authors and editors need funding, but that could come from advertising agents that book specific ads for specific authors or editor collections. Publishing that depends for its revenue on advertisers must concentrate on the widest possible distribution of material. In the Web age, that means e-mail distribution with little or no limits on redistribution. Copyright control freaks need not apply. In any case, no one needs a large printing plant anymore, not in an era where even full-length books can be printed and bound on demand and delivered locally. Of course, permanent works require permanent storage and permanent access. So authors and readers both still need librarians.

Librarians, not libraries. Everyone should have access to all the information they need or want all the time. This has been the grand goal of librarians since before Julius Caesar’s troops burnt the library of Alexandria. In the past, such a goal was a valuable, inspirational image, but an impossible dream. No longer. But to pull it off, we’ll need to pull together as a profession, to break out of existing institutional models, to create new ways to work and new sources for funding this great goal. To do that, we need more fame and glory.

The creation of the Great Digital Library represents only one reason for librarians and other information professionals to elevate their profile in the world. As more and more data centralizes through networking and more and more millions of people come online both as users and as creators of content, people everywhere will require guides through the massive data array. They will need brand names they can trust. E-commerce firms, authors, institutions, editors, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations, publishers, and many more alternatives will vie vociferously for the trust of users. As a profession, we must lay claim to our traditional role of serving the public, of defining professional success in the satisfaction and welfare of our clients and this alone. We must protect our users.

To do so, we must let the people of the world know that a library is only what’s left over when a librarian goes home at night. We must burst out of our buildings and shake off the limits of print formats While enhancing the profession as a whole, we must put a face on individual librarians. No demanding profession expects equal performance from all players. Uniform, identical functionality is what you get from AAA batteries, not from skilled, high-performance professionals. We should offer the most personal service to more and more people by using the most automated tools.
As a first tiny step toward this grand goal, let us all campaign vigorously to change the names of our professional organizations to identify their true membership. At present, the only information professional organization that recognizes it contains people is the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP). All the rest — American Library Association, Special Libraries Association, American Association of Law Libraries, Medical Library Association — claim to represent buildings or institutional constructs.

How curiously comforting it felt to get that last little bugaboo off my chest. It’s bothered me for years. And how nice to think that the Golden Age into which we march will have room for gadflies, bugaboos, and bees in bonnets. If it were not so, neither Searcher’s readers nor editors could survive. For us, Attitude is All.

Not all the events lying between humanity and the Fourth Millennium will be kindly ones. Of this, there is no doubt. But as we pause and survey the time that lies before us, let us hope for the best, work for the best, and insist on the best.

Look out, Time! Move over, World!! Here we come!! The Winners!!

...bq

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

In addition to the thanks that goes out to all our authors and columnists (and, in the case of the columnists, that’s an eternal salute of gratitude), we owe a special thanks to the people who helped produce the little glimpses of wisdom and fun you will find scattered throughout the print and Web site renditions of this issue. Actually, the print version of this issue needed fewer "fillers" than we expected, but the ones we had gathered were so good that we decided to include them all on the Web site. Check them out at http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/.

One title in particular, the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service’s Erroneous Predictions and Negative Comments Concerning Exploration, Territorial Expansion, Scientific and Technological Development: Selected Statements, compiled by Nancy T. Gamarra and last issued in revised form on May 29, 1969, exemplifies the everlasting need for great librarians and the great libraries they build. Ms. Gamarra, whom I never met, produced this charming collection of “how I wish I had never said that” memorabilia. I remembered filing the fascinating little pamphlet decades ago in a “vertical file” (aka file cabinet), when I worked a day job at the RAND Corporation. We used to pull it out every time one of our researchers needed proof that no prediction process was ever perfect.

In trying to recover it after all these years, I implored the aid of some of my leading librarian friends. We discovered, to our horror, that not only doesn’t the Web contain all human knowledge — true, that ugly rumor has already gained wide circulation — but traditional online has holes in it too. Not even mighty OCLC carried the citation.

No fear. A much earlier form of information gathering proved effective. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know! One of my leading librarian friends had a friend at the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service. A quick e-mail message and months of worry boiled down to a 2-day FedEx journey. And so a special thanks to Donna Scheeder at CRS.

Once again, thanks to the strangers who helped provide the little gems for this Millennial Issue. To wit: Robert Byrne, comp., 1,911 Best Things Anybody Ever Said [New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1988]; Princeton Language Institute, 21st Century Dictionary of Quotations [New York, Philip Leif Group, 1993]; James Reston, Jr., The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 A.D. [New York, Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1996]; and Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium: An Englishman’s World [Boston, Little, Brown, 1998].

You know, when you stop and think about it, a document is a wonderful testimony to humankind. Someone — out of love or need or interest — takes the time and trouble to collect and record knowledge or create entertainment for people they will never meet. And the people they will never meet hire librarians to collect and distribute the largesse. And now the Web continues the process with electronic archives into a new millennium.

Whatever the millennium, we all depend on the kindness of strangers.
 
Purchase the Millennium Issue Subscribe Now!
Contents Searcher Home