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Digitalization and the Future

December 2, 2009

I hope everyone in the US had a lovely Thanksgiving and are now refreshed. I can hardly believe here at Cal State East Bay we are in the last week before final exams. The library is packed with students studying and finishing up final projects. Watching all the students work on projects reminded me of one type of project that is being undertaken by many libraries and archives–digitalization. Then I got a notice about a post on Things that are being killed off by digitalisation and decided that was enough of a sign to write a post about digitalization, the future and libraries and archives.

I think that the above post is very thoughtful; however, as I work in the library and archives field, I have to disagree with a few points. While I will agree that telephone directories, letter writing, and paper statements may be going the way of telegrams because of online alternatives there are other points on the list that I am not so sure I agree with, namely: memory, experts, and personal re-invention. So not to get on the soapbox too much I’ll only touch on those three on the list and hope you will share your thoughts about digitalization and future change.

I’m not sure if “memory” is referring to individual memory or collective memory, or perhaps just remembering what to pick up at the store, but I don’t think memory is being killed off. If we look at collective memory, which is one of my research interests, the online environment and digitalization efforts are actually strengthening collective memory and fostering areas where groups can share and remember without intervention from institutions. For example, there are many online archives created by community groups where people come together and share documents, photos, and memories of events or community. Just one example, check out Densho. Individuals’ memories can be supplemented by storage of photos and blog/diary entries online, but they do not replace people’s memories. But if we are talking about just remembering to-do lists or what to buy at the store, then yes, probably online resources are taking over–goodness knows I love the to-do gadgets on my iGoogle page!

Next up: experts. In a Wikipedia-driven world it may seem that experts are no longer needed or desired, but I don’t think they are being killed off. If this is true, then my job of teaching information literacy to college students is pointless, evaluation of sources is pointless, and trying to increase the level of scholarship in any field is pointless. Obviously, I don’t agree with this. While crowdsourcing is fantastic in some respects, there will always be a need for experts. I don’t want my medical treatment to be crowdsourced and I don’t want to rely on scientific papers written by high school students–I want experts. And if people actually think that there is no need for experts, then this presents a challenge and a opportunity for librarians and other information professionals to educate them.

I have to say that I’m most confused by how personal re-invention is being killed off by digitalization. I suppose we could say that it is linked into the privacy problem and how nothing seems to ever really be deleted in cyberland. However, it seems to me that the online environment is uniquely suited to foster change and re-invention. Perhaps it is just a difference in defining “re-invention”. Lots of people use Second Life, online communities and surfing the Internet to re-invent themselves or find new ways of expressing themselves. The only constant is definitely change.

So those are just a few of my thoughts. In this time of online, cyber-living, it is more important than ever for librarians, archivists, knowledge managers, etc. to work with others to make sure that people understand and evaluate information they are finding online. Digitalization is not the enemy; it is just another tool and it is up to the people to figure out how to best use it.

I have to say that I was excited though to see that public libraries top the list of things that aren’t being killed off by digitalization. Rock on libraries!

That is it for this post–I must get back to prepping for final exams now. Read a lot, leave comments, and the Waki Librarian will be back with some tech help for holiday traveling soon.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. litbrarian permalink
    December 2, 2009 8:29 pm

    Wait wait wait. Where are these people on Second Life? I know that librarians tout Second Life as the Way of the Future (pardon my wanton capitalization), but there is nobody I have ever encountered as a relatively Young Person who uses Second Life. Or, at the very least, one who admits to it. A majority of the people about whom I hear using Second Life are older folk.

    Beyond that, I think the digital collective memory is a powerful tool, though how it will be utilized is up for debate. It is certainly something to be mindful of with the ability to Google someone’s name or online handle and discover potentially incriminating things which they may have said at some point and taken entirely out of context (job-hunters beware).

    • dwakimoto permalink*
      December 2, 2009 9:35 pm

      I agree that Second Life hasn’t really caught on with teenagers and college students yet, but who says that reinvention stops at age 18 or 20? A person who is considered an “older folk” still has the ability to re-invent him/herself. Perhaps I should have used MySpace or Facebook profiles as an example, as there is a body of research on young people using those platforms to re-invent themselves online.

      Definitely agree that digital footprints should give a person pause when posting publicly online. However, with digital collective memory I was referring more to the ability of communities to be in control of their own collective memories, and the presentation of the memories/representation of the community, by utilizing the potential of social networking and easy of web storage.

      Nice, though, to know that someone reads the posts reflectively! Thanks for posting the comment and making me think some more.

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