Eric Lease Morgan wrote:

> This, taken to a its logical conclusion, seems to say that libraries
> are about providing access to information to the people who can't get
> access any other way. This group of people will be getting smaller and
> smaller. I imagine a time when the entire content of a library can be
> stored on a thing the size and shape of a sugar cube. To read the
> content of the cube you will drop it into a device, and the device will
> facilitate access. As the amount of content on cube increases the less
> important access will be come and the more important services against
> the content will become. This, in my opinion, is an opportunity for
> librarianship. It is where librarianship can grow and fill a niche.

I recall seeing some documentary where a physicist argued that you could
fit the entire content of the Encyclopedia Britannica (text only, no
formatting or pictures) on to an area equal to the head of a pin, but
that would be about the theoretical maximum storage density possible,
and you would need a powerful electron microscope to read it. If that is
true, I think that means you could fit the text equivalent of 10,000
Britannicas on an area roughly the size of a compact disc. Of course, by
storing data in layers in a three dimensional container, you could get
even more but, as impressive as that kind of storage density is, it
seems doubtful that we could store the entire content of a large modern
library on such a small device, never mind all of the material that a
future library might have. Not only can we expect libraries to have more
text, images, and sound in the future, but also exotic storage-gobbling
stuff like ultra-high definition three-dimensional video, digital images
with microscopic levels of detail, a set of 1:1 scale maps of Earth, and
other things that I am sure no one will be able to live without once
they are possible.

At any rate, history has shown that we have the impressive ability to
come up with new storage needs just as quickly as new storage technology
can be developed. Despite higher and higher storage densities, it
certainly seems that the physical space devoted to digital data storage
is going up, not down. I have every confidence that we will continue to
rely on buildings rather than pockets for our primary data storage needs.

I think that libraries have always been about access services and not
just storage. In order to access something, you have to have it in the
first place, but that isn't enough. Libraries are valuable not just
because they contain information but because the information is
selected, cataloged, and sorted. A big pile containing every book ever
published isn't nearly as useful as a few thousand items, selected for
relevance, cataloged, classified according to some relevant theme, and
serviced by people and/or systems with the ability to identify and
retrieve the most relevant materials for a particular need. We already
have an example of what an enormous repository of information with no
selection policy, no central management, and only primitive mediated
access looks like, and it seems to underscore the enormous value of
organization and mediation.

William Wueppelmann

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