Friday, 6 June 2014

Reveries of libraries, the fifth : ZEITGEIST SNAPSHOTS


1.      Then there was the Application. It was a library held in your hand.  It contained everything, even your most private thoughts and desires. It was a library of appearances. Actually it did not contain everything. It was a small reference collection of personal data. Material that was up-to-date had the feel of being out-of-date. It perpetrated syndromes. In fact, it was not a library. The Application was weak on quality control. It could not remember every thing. Sorry, it was only a machine. There was no one to talk to about its contents. The Application was someone’s personal library of this and that.
2.      Then there was the 3D Print. It turned flatness into an object. Museums of layered models were realised out of horizontal cross-sections. The paperless museum became the paperful museum. Animated from a flat plane, the 3D Print came clean out of ‘computer-personed’ design. Not that the results stayed clean. Dust settled. Feather dusters were required by librarians to keep things spruce-goose. Exact replicas of fragile objects turned into fossils, sometimes in perfect duplicate forms. A literature sprang up. The fossils themselves were a kind of living paper literature. New cataloguing rules had to be devised to describe this realia.
3.      The there was the Automatic Check-In. This was good practice for borrowers who used airports a lot. Humans no longer needed to be librarians. They could make coffee or join protest marches or write science fiction at home. Fines were handled by a colleague of the Automatic Check-In known as the Automatic Adds-Up. Not that they lacked the personal touch. Borrowers had to personally touch the Automatic Check-In with their index finger in order to follow the directions. If they didn’t do this, or the returned items did not register for some obscure technical reason, the Automatic Adds-Up could get very angry. Not that either of them had any feelings.
4.      Then there was the Touchscreen. Idle turning of pages or flipping through catalogue card drawers was for nostalgia buffs. The catalogue was in the aisle with the searcher. It could be read in the passenger seat during those long trips along freeways. The point of need could more or less be met anywhere using handheld devices and the Touchscreen. Instead of the cumbersome paperback or antiquated magazine, the library became an endless finger dance for background information, enhanced experiences, softening interactions, virtual copies, zooming intuitions, spectral formats, keyboardless sonatas.
5.      Then there was the E-Book. This was a reminder of how impermanent and fragile our libraries really were, as there were no books more impermanent and fragile than the E-Book. Once there was a literature so ethereal it rarely moved from the shelf from one generation to the next, but now there was a whole literature technology sourced entirely from the ether itself. When they said that the E-Book was skyrocketing, they weren’t being metaphorical. The atmosphere we breathed was filled with words. Download made much of the online world one vast regional library network. Borrowing rights were a nightmare, when they weren’t free.
6.      Then there was the Downtime. This was the strange period of a day or night when the information wasn’t available on a screen. It was sometimes called the Realtime by those who could remember a time in their lives when computers did not exist. This was an antique world in which people embraced face-to-face, depending on whose face. In that long gone world now only seen in movies, people sat in large armchairs and slowly turned pages in an effort to find out something. Sometimes they would do this both day and night. The Downtime reminded borrowers that it was enjoyable to talk to one another, often in large groups called discussion groups. This happened in libraries in forms like the Book Group, but in numerous other ways, humans being by nature, talkers. The Downtime had the effect of reminding people of information rich and information poor, as it became apparent some people did not suffer from the Downtime because they didn’t have access to the internet anyway. Librarians were in the unenviable position of reminding everyone that the books were there for everyone. Those rare humans who were still known as librarians.
7.      Then there was the Interaction. Cataloguers became regulators of a flood, rather than a workflow. How to describe Blogger, Wordpress and other content management systems. Leave it to Google? What is the information we lost in the information? Were we describing a river, a lagoon, a lake, a bight? A bay of books looked quaint. During the flood all shape was lost under the prevailing push of wash. And the Interaction extended to more unmanageable daily correspondence. Could we have libraries of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr? At least a print monograph stood resolutely on its feet through all vicissitudes. How were cataloguers to judge what was priority for their library on Youtube, Flickr, Photobucket? Did the cataloguer drop all hits on a subject in a box labelled with the subject? And what happened when their main subject went viral? There were not enough minutes in the day. The waters, it seemed, may never recede. Libraries became Pinterests of self-definition. Librarians became evangelists for the Keyword.

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