Some time ago, this little fascinating article rolled through one of the sites I frequent talking about a theory that ultra-rare celestial alignment led to a much larger than normal high tide that could have refloated larger icebergs that eventually made their way into the path of the Titanic. The part that really gets me is that this event happened on January 4th, a full three months before that night in April. Ironically, at the same time the lifeboats were being installed on the ship, its demise had begun its journey slowly off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. I’ve always had a fascination with the convergence of events and how people and things come together all in the same place at once. If not for this particular event at this particular time of the year, the ship would be a modest entry in historical ship construction books. James Cameron’s fame and fortune might be linked to a movie called Lusitania.
It’s this preoccupation with convergence that has me looking at some of the technologies of the past fifteen or so years that will have significant impact (no pun intended) on libraries in the next few years. While there is no killer iceberg that will sink the Library ship, I do see some technologies that are knocking off particular aspects that have been maintained by the library over the years.
Take the development of the internet search engine which started years ago with names like Alta Vista and Webcrawler. Combined with the content that has been added over time, it has effectively killed off the Trivial Pursuit portion of ready reference. You don’t need to consult with Encyclopedia of Left Handed Victorian Irish Farmers when a simply query in Google or Bing can bring back the answer faster than you can lumber out of the reference desk chair. Even mid ranged questions with more in-depth answers can be handled in the same manner depending on the topic, thus depleting some of the inquiries to the reference desk being either (1) unable to search for themselves, (2) announce that they are too lazy and want you to look it up for them, or (3) actually require some expertise to sift through the answers to find credible results. Even while (3) justifies the existence of a reference desk, the first two do not pose a strong case for its continued purpose in answering inquiries.
The search engine has killed off some of the more mundane reference desk inquiries, shifting it to a faster DIY usage. This is not a bad thing since it promotes self sufficiency, but it represents an aspect of the traditional library service that has fallen victim to one of these smaller proverbial icebergs.
Are there other icebergs you see that are chipping away at the ole Library vessel here? What developments are finally coming into their own now and replacing or reducing a previous library aspect?