Here Comes Everybody
After hearing an interview with the author on this past week’s “On the Media,” I am now anxiously awaiting my copy of Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. The book discusses how the ease of access to information is lowering the bar for who contributes, and as a result there is more power in numbers online than any other force. In media like television and radio, the producers and advertisers call the shots. But online, no matter how much “official” outlets and advertisers may try to shape the direction things progress, ultimately it’s people who make things happen. The interview has some interesting examples, but you can already see it in things like iTunes, YouTube, and even Wikipedia. Their prevalence is entirely due to the number of people who have hopped on board, thinking they’re good ideas. I think the biggest proof is in Google. Page rank counts for everything in Google, and that’s directly related to how many people are clicking through to your site.
So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Frankly, it impacts libraries. Traditional libraries are another variety of the old media. The librarians control access to the collection through selection, cataloging, and search skills. But in this new environment, the numbers outweigh those old skills. Forget selection, we’ve got the biggest collection in the world right here. And the things you want bubble right to the top because everyone is talking about or looking for them. Forget cataloging, we’ve got tagging. Now some might say that you need to have professional skills to catalog, and that’s true if you’re just one person cataloging. But if millions of people are doing the cataloging, eventually the preferred terms will rise to the top, no AACR2 needed.
In the interview, Shirky points out that the old model was to gather, then share. That is, you develop your collection, catalog it, and then open your doors to the world so that everyone can share it. But on the Internet the rule is share, then gather. Storage is so plentiful and dirt-cheap you can upload absolutely everything. Then once everyone has shared everything, people start identifying common elements. That’s what humans do: x is like y, a is like b, etc. Since so many people are doing this at once though, the common themes float to the top without the need of an actual cataloger trying to guess what should float to the top to help people find what they’re looking for. Instead they self-select.
So where does this leave libraries and librarians? First off, we still have searching. We can still do that better than anyone. And even though the collections are being made for us, we still should learn what’s in the collection and be able to navigate it to find what’s needed. But as for libraries…
Well, doesn’t everybody need a place to come?