Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Speed of Thought

I used to go to libraries pretty frequently. Some of the time the motives were purely social, but I also used the resources there for lots of school work.

Then I used to work in one. A library, that is. It was a bit heady to have all those resources, the reference listings, the microfilm, the Mil-Specs, and all the ACM and IEEE goodness any person with an IQ of 155 could possibly want, all that...information really, really close by. You want the GNP of Algeria? CIA World Fact Book is ready with your info. How about the President's secretary's phone number? Exectutive Yellow Book -- here ya go. The ABCs and 123s of a Russian SCUD missle? Please - step this way.

Those were the easy requests. The harder ones sometimes involved me leaving the comfort of my carpeted cubicle (when I wasn't taking my shift at the Reference Desk), and hoofing it to Kendall Square, Cambridge - to one of MIT's fine libraries. Granted that only happened a few times, and no - I didn't actually "hoof" it. I drove to the subway station and then rode the line to Cambridge. But still, a bit of an unwieldy way to retrieve documents. And as you might have guessed, I worked in a tech library. No story time or quilter's corner here.

This was about 15 years ago, maybe more.

In a way, what I saw, what I dealt with, was cutting edge. Back then, the average consumer did not have or even understand what HDTV was, nor GPS, nor PDA. But these were terms I saw pretty frequently in the research that I pulled together for our staff of scientists and engineers. Much of the jargon and the nuts and bolts technologywas over my head. I didn't know an array from an alogorithm. (well OK I kinda did), but I understood the basic concepts of what HD and the rest meant.

So like, that's all cool and stuff. Right?

But our methods of getting the info, though sophisticated for our time, in retrospect seems so - so --


Yes, slow, that's the word.

Today, anyone with a computer and a decent connection can get nearly the same information all by themselves - if they know were to look. Of course, tons of erroneous stuff comes up as well, it takes a seasoned surfer to discern the difference. Yeah, like I'm all that.

My mother would have loved this stuff.


Aaron Fleming said...

I think we're only a few years away from libraries turning into big computer suites. Books'll be discarded to make way for a thousand Dell flatscreens. Not all libraries though; some will hold on to their book-based foundation. But many will choose to have a digitised catalogue, a library of e-books available online. The library I work in has already made a step in this direction by removing all print journals in favour of solely offering electronic journal access. The bibliophile in me groans at the thought of printed books being superceded in this way, but then technology also gives where it has taken away and the positive aspects of this are clear: materials for distance learning, easily searchable articles, ability to tailor resources to suit disabilities, etc etc.

Let's hope a middle ground can be reached where a mixture of the two can live. Let's hope financial constraints don't force universities and libraries to sacrifice the space they have for books.

Mary K. Williams said...

I agree Aaron - I hate to see paper replaced so easily. Sometimes technology is more of a hindrance too. Especially when it fails and you have no back up plan.

When I was in the hospital recently with Tom, for some reason my lap top could not connect to the Hospital's WiFi. It was maddening and reduced me to a bitchy person.

But still - at the rate research is exploding - we will gain a great deal.

Mary K. Williams said...

Reading this through I thought I should add a disclaimer. I don't have an IQ of 155! I'm pretty sure it's lower. I know I have a few brain cells left kicking around - but not enough for a genius ranking.

Just sayin'