Librarians and the uncertain electronic future

In February 1987, during a two-day workshop sponsored by the Office of Scholarly Communication and Technology, Director Herbert C. Morton drafted a report titled “Librarians, Publishers, and Scholars in Transition.”

Now, it’s not everyday that I see the word “librarian” stamped on any of these materials. There are many other keywords, what Merriam-Webster editor-at-large, Peter Sokolowski, would call “vocabulary events,” moments where I stop what I’m doing to research a person, location, institution, acronym or agency.  Librarian, though, librarians I know! They are in my wheelhouse, they are my home position, they are me!

In the section “A Library Perspective,” I was struck by the relevance of these insights 26 years after they were published.

Research librarians…are highly preoccupied with technology. They have their full share of financial problems trying to keep up with the rising tide of publication and meet new demands with a relatively fixed budget. But they cannot afford to ignore or even postpone the application of new technology to their operations. For two decades they have been developing computer applications to problems of catalog and resource-sharing. Technology offers them a way to cope with their problems but it also confronts them with difficult choices in selecting electronic systems and in allocating financial resources.

…It has been increasingly difficult…to think about the library’s traditional role because it is evolving so rapidly, and it appears that the rate of change is increasing under the impact of electronics.

…Libraries…occupy a middle ground between the users and the publishers.

As a result of technological changes, librarians are becoming ‘less format-bound’…Librarians are beginning to think of how to provide access to information and materials in the most appropriate format for the user needs. What the electronic future will be is highly uncertain.

One important caveat is to keep in mind the distinction between processed information, which is knowledge, and unprocessed information which is garbage. Maintaining control over what enters the electronic information systems will be a difficult challenge.

Apologies for the extensive quotation, but I mean, it’s worth it, right? I didn’t consider the ACLS collection to be a place where I would discover a portal into the ghosts of librarians’ pasts…and the impending worry over the future.

One thought on “Librarians and the uncertain electronic future

  1. Pingback: Using Organizational Records | Documenting the Humanities

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