Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Hyperlinked Library

The Hyperlinked Library
Report by Ken St. Andre

I spent the afternoon of March 10 at the Burton Barr Central Library listening to a talk by one Michael Stevens, a professor Library Science at Dominican University in Indiana. Mike is a young man, probably hasn’t seen 30 yet, long glossy black hair and beard, an excellent speaker, dynamic in every sense of the word. He has a blog worth reading called Tametheweb. The presentation was just a slide show and a talk—it wasn’t even Powerpoint, or if it was, it was the most basic Powerpoint presentation ever. However, his images were all well chosen, entertaining, and he kept them moving right along.

It was one of those feel-good talks—cool things that libraries are doing, and cool things that we could be doing also in our roles as librarians in the 21st century. Dozens of examples rolled out of him, and there’s no good trying to mention them all. He has promised that he will put the whole slide show up on his blog, and for anyone who wants to see it, then it should be available on the web in a few more days.

The big point of his talk was that the world is converging into one hyperlinked society where information is exchanged right now—not tomorrow, not next week, not next month or next year. Now! The web has changed everything, and applications like FaceBook (My Space seems to be losing it), Flicker, and especiallyl Twitter ( are changing the way people live and communicate. These days it seems that businesses and organizations that don’t actively promote themselves with web services like FaceBook and Twitter are missing out, and will soon be irrelevant to the general digital population.

As a direct result of Mike’s talk, I signed up for Twitter this morning. I have sent my first three tweets. I have a couple of followers already. The competitive part of me wants to know how long it will take me to get 1000 followers. I’m guessing less than a year. I don’t have a cell phone yet, but perhaps that will be another major change in my life.

I have to admit that when he talked about all this change I felt like the oldest dinosaur in the room. I don’t have a cell phone. I didn’t twitter. I’m not on FaceBook, although 175 million people are. 175 million people—imagine the computing power it takes to keep up with that. And yet, such was the force of his personality and the excitement of his presentation, that I felt like changing, and I haven’t felt like changing for a long time.

And he also talked about the next big thing—Cloud computing. It is now possible to have companies like Google and Yahoo save all your files for you, and make them available to you anywhere in the world as long as you can connect to them in some fashion. Google provides a full suite of productivity software—word processing, spreadsheets, relational databases—free. No Microsoft licenses to pay for. No CDs to maintain. No stupid serial numbers to keep track of. Everything you need to do business is available for free. And you can store it for free in Google’s supercomputers. That’s Cloud Computing.

There are downsides to all this transparency and distributed processing of information. How much of your life are you willing to put into a metaphorical fishbowl for the world to stare at? What happens if Google ever goes down and takes all you information with it? Inconceivable. Not really. But these seem to be the kind of risks and problems that the 21st century will have to deal with.

We didn’t really talk about any downsides to this tech revolution of wireless connectivity all over the planet. We only looked at benefits. The benefits are considerable. These changes are affecting us all, whether we want them to or not. As librarians, and information professionals, we need to be aware of how things are changing.

In other news, Liz Danforth attended the afternoon session at the same time I did. She has big news. She’s the first ever official games blogger for Library Journal. How cool is that!