Thursday, May 5, 2016

Another Academic Mistake About Libraries

Marginal Revolution recently dropped a link to Balázs Bodó's 2015 paper, Libraries in a post-scarcity era.

Post scarcity is, of course, a major error in itself. Granted, we have an abundance of text, but we only have two eyes and a finite amount of time to read. Second, the relative abundance of digital storage does not a library, in anyway, make. Libraries, too are extremely scarce, made all the more so due to the ideological impact of institutions like the American Library Association. No doubt, this forms some of the basis for Bodó's confusion on the matter- if the examples of functioning libraries are few and far between, well, one might be forgiven for assuming the mere presence of some files somewhere might a library make.

One of the most vital functions of a library is to actually exist in a particular time and place, so that people can come and discover new things- or at least things new to them. Additionally, we should be providing some level of help searching for materials. Google is, of course, extremely helpful, but it fails pretty fast if you don't know what to Google for, or your search string brings back tons of ads.

So, the digital age really only makes a library more necessary. There should be more of them, likely more specialized, and smaller- because we need more people reading about particular things. This is the real crux of the matter. The mainstream recommendation services can't keep up, and it seems they don't want to. As I have mentioned before, there appears to be a strong inclination to maintain the narrative.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of non-narrative, and more importantly, true things out there. There really isn't much of a substitute for someone actually reading it, and judging whether or not it is useful for their particular location. There are ways to filter text by computer, but this would only provide a ranking, improving the odds the best writing is on the top of the slush pile. It still must be read.

Attention still must be paid. Attention becomes the choke point. This should be the focus of an academic paper, because attention is scarce- especially the attention of intelligent people.

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