The Internet Has A Library-Shaped Hole

David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society made an interesting observation about the valuable trove of data a library keeps but does not currently make available online. In short, he said, there’s a library-shaped hole in the Internet.

According to Weinberger, this is not just an inconvenience. As they say, if it’s not on the Internet, it doesn’t exist. But it would be tragic if library culture were to fade into irrelevancy. That means libraries should seize the initiative to fill that hole in the Internet with everything they know and are allowed to make public.

Libraries can do this by making their information available to any developer who has a good idea. There are well-established ways of making this happen. Usually, it requires an API (application programming interface), which is like a website where computer programs can request not web pages but pure information. This would enable developers around the world to create apps that address needs that are local to geographies, cultures, or interests. Perhaps someone wants a browser for works specific to a local West Virginia coal town, or wants a book recommender that places an emphasis on recommendations by teachers, or wants to research the acquisition of Harry Potter novels across urban and rural areas.

Weinberger goes on to say that in order to keep libraries a vital part of our culture, we need to go further. Imagine if data were available about patterns of usage in communities around the world, the digital highlighting and annotations made by users, records of what people are searching for, which books are kept past their checkout date, which books are put on reserve for classes, and the books assigned for particular topics. If all that was broken down by library — but scrupulously anonymized and blurred — there would be no end to the ways in which users could learn from one another and freely explore within the vast web of culture.

This would also go a long way to keeping library knowledge relevant, for this information could be linked from other sources of information about authors, courses, geography, historical weather data . . . to everything.

It's a worthwhile endeavor to find ways to bring the traditional knowledge of the library to the online community. Libraries provide so much pertinent information that if we could also leverage that data online, it would only make us even more indispensable.

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