There’s President-elect Obama and Vice-President Elect Joe Biden riding that crown jewel of 19th-century technology, the railroad. The two are riding into a city that was laid out by a French man with dreams of a urban an landscape that would match the 18th century democratic ideals of a new country. When Biden and Obama stand on the western portico of the nation’s capitol — watched by millions strung along the broad vistas of the national mall, as weill as through the hundreds of digital and analog media channels — and they look west to the Washington Monument, their vista will be one largely framed by another Chicagoan over a hundred years ago — Daniel H. Burnham, who also designed the Union Station where the train arrived on Saturday. Mr. Burnham’s plans for Washington, D.C. were considered by many to be the first 20th century examples of how expertise and technology could make vast urban areas more livable and productive. A promise he ultimately capped with his heralded 1909 Plan of Chicago.
All of this is simply a lyrical way to show hw the moment of Obama’s official assumption of duties occurs in a rich, and deeply interconnected, context of history, present and future. It is a condition librarians can understand and appreciate — considering we are learning to live with the transformation of our 19th century collection/ideals or paper and print and trying to imagine how they will work in a new century dominated by digital demands of e-government and the private world wide web.
As we discuss, plan, scheme, argue, advocate, debate, insist, and talk (and talk) about the future plans of civic information mechanisms, let us keep constantly in mind that as much as the digital wonders change how we do things — the substance of what we do as civic librarians does not change – ensuring the sustainability and openness of the civic conversation between the governed and their governors.
I hope Obama’s speech on Tuesday captures some of this essential truth.
See you on Day 2.
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