Challenges of a Digital Age

Sometimes I don’t think the public in general (including many information professionals) really understands the nature of the technology that we make use of everyday, or the implications of that technology.

Griffey (2010) argued that we are trying to force a print-based conceptual model onto the world of digital resources when in fact the two are dynamically different and require distinctly different treatment and approaches (p. 25-6).

Even when we do shift our thinking towards a digital universe, it seems a basic understanding of the technology involved is still missing. For example, a colleague’s recent class paper suggested that digital resources could reduce library operating costs by removing the expense of maintaining a physical collection. While I don’t doubt that there may be some savings there, esp. in terms of reduced space requirements, this colleague’s paper didn’t even mention the costs inherent in maintaining a digital collection (digital or no, the information has to be physically stored SOMEWHERE and high-capacity servers require much greater technical expertise than basic book repair). Even if a library is not going to maintain its own digital collection, there are serious challenges posed by a library’s leasing access to another’s materials rather than purchasing them as discussed by Rubin (2010, p. 342-3).

Perhaps of greatest concern is this idea that once something is online, it’s forever. While unflattering photos and poorly worded quips seem nearly impossible to get rid of, the Library of Congress has recognized that information that is “born digital” is inherently mutable and fragile thus posing unique challenges in terms of preservation (Rubin 2010, p. 356). Thus, just because we take a collection digital does not mean it is any safer than having it in hard copy, perhaps even less so based on current limitations of how many copies can be made of digital materials based on frankly outdated limitations imposed by current copyright law (Rubin 2010, p. 357).

Knowing the above and yet based upon interactions with colleagues and classmates, it strikes me that even within the profession, there is a potentially massive information gap between the real opportunities and challenges posed by digital resources and the digital world as we perceive it on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, I value an LIS education that focuses on the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of the profession and focuses on service (the using of tools) rather than the purely technical. I’m struggling to define for myself where the balance lies between being a LIS professional and being a tech professional. Maybe I’m creating a differentiation between the two that can no longer be sustained.

Griffey, J. (2010). Ebook Sanity. Library Journal, 135(13), 25-6.

Rubin, R. (2010). Foundations of library and information science. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.


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