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66 Days to Government Information Liberation

I want to pick up a theme I explored a bit in an earlier posting, especially in light of
Jim’s references to Vince Stehle’s article about what kind of hybrid institution would be demanded by the Web’s infrastructure to sustain and “…promote a vibrant and diverse exchange of educational information, cultural expression, and political discourse over the Internet?”

Though Stehle doesn’t say it, Jim does – a library.

But, Jim offers the answer never assumed by Stehle’s question. In fact what Sthele describes are three web institutions that are nothing like libraries – but more like socially enhanced search engines – helping elevate and sort the vast amount amount of Web data in some kind of structured way and then allowing for some kind of interactivity between the creator and searcher. By my estimate, Stehle is talking about evolved tools that are comparable to the library’s traditional catalogs and indexes.

But they are not akin to a library’s purpose.

From Stehle’s argument there is a clear assumption that the Web — and all its content — is the “new” library – “free” to use by profit and non-profit forces. To him, as well as others who argue from the perspective, the library/web morphing together into some kind of global resource is a done deal. The struggle now revolves around on how the tools of access and knowledge integration are spread through society. Stehle clearly argues for what Benjamin Barber calls a strong democracy approach, best captured by Thomas Jefferson’s statement long embraced by government information librarians, but not in its rich contextual meaning –

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate power of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.”

In other words, we are moving away from the formats and distribution mechanisms born from the several centuries of technological innovations sustained by Gutenberg’s paper and print technologies — and the hundreds of years of library tradition and practice these fostered. We must now deal with technologies that create far different information relationships with our communities, and knowledge building opportunities for our institutions. It is something no longer centered on possession and/or control, and by extension — geography. We are no longer Gutenberg Librarians.

This new age of librarianship might best be named after Marshall McLuhan and his observations about the impact of expansive modern telecommunications throughout society. For the McLuhan Librarians – the medium is the message.

So too, I think, for government information librarians. Our future work will depend not so much on how well we preserve or organize the information sources (don’t get me wrong, this will remain important — but is no longer our exclusive responsibility.) Rather, our success will rest on how well we knit together the medium of governance (politics, policy, law, and programs) with how our communities use the civic message to inform their daily lives.

See you on Day 66.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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