Monday, December 12, 2005

Where do we go from here?

I guess it's time to figure out what it is I want this blog to be about. While I don't mind posting the occasional updates on my diet progress and how many words I've completed on my latest writing endeavor, it strikes me that I could and should be attempting to draw out a theme (or perhaps two or three) here in my corner of the 'sphere. It's been a wild and wooly few months, so I guess it's not all that surprising to find that my posts have been few and far between, but now that the turbulence appears to be subsiding at least for now I'm going to try and see if I can get back onto the ol' blogging horse, or failing that put the poor nag out to pasture.

That being said, I've noticed an odd discontinuity between what's going on right now in the digital world and how the next generation of librarians is being trained. It's not that the average MLS is technologically impaired -- far from it, in fact! -- but while awareness of the breakthroughs of the 1990's has effectively saturated our profession, the cutting edge stuff being done these days with tags and open-source media often elicits blanks stare and a collective "Huh?" even from the faculty.

Take the whole Wikipedia phenomenon, for instance. Just as academia turned its nose up at Google at first only to fall over themselves trying to partner with the internet search giant, so too will Wikipedia -- which now only draws sneers from the professors who know about it -- have its moment of respectability in the not-so-distant future. Already the scientific community has learned how to make an end run around the traditional channels of research and publication, eliminating the corporate middleman by creating free electronic periodicals without sacrificing peer review in the process. Wikipedia offers a parallel model for subjects such as the humanities and the various social sciences, as does the recently-launched Squiddoo, which collects peoples' various areas of expertise into online "lenses".

Not just information but human knowledge itself is becoming digitized and browsable to anyone, anywhere, anytime. If this puts the fear of God into professional academics, well it should. It's not to say that we don't need them, but as with the publishing industry there's nothing saying that the current bloated and corrupt quasi-corporate system of higher education must continue on as it has for the past fifty-odd years or so in perpetuity. The beauty of the Internet is that it has the potential to disintermediate the parties which add no real value to goods (including information) and services (including education), while at the same time exponentially expanding the markets for both to a truly global scale.

Now exactly how is this a bad thing?

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