5 Feb 2004
Did you know that librarians can answer reference questions? That they are in fact specially trained to help you find answers in their vast archives of human knowledge?
Still, with a widespread public expectation that answers can be found almost instantly by typing a few words into an Internet search engine, librarians increasingly find themselves on the sidelines in the question-answering business. So they are slowly warming to the idea that they must educate the public about ways to sort through the mountain of available information.
"When Google doesn't work, most people don't have a plan B," said Joe Janes, an associate professor in the Information School at the University of Washington in Seattle, who is teaching a course on Google this quarter. "Librarians have lots of plan B's. We know when to go to a book, when to call someone, even when to go to Google."
Librarians are pretty neat. I met one, j Baumgart, at the Berkman Thursday meeting. Like Steve, I think librarians and hackers (by which I mean individuals who program computers because they really get a kick out of it, not malicious computer users) are birds of a feather. We both have a lot to learn from each other. Librarians should know that technology is not just a constant threat to their jobs, but can empower them to work more efficiently. Programmers should learn from the librarians' great respect for their clientele (contrast their patrons with our users—it's as if we assume our customers must be on drugs) and patience. I also think we should absorb some of the public-service mentality in order to attract people who love programming for noble reasons, not just because it pays well (not that I want a pay cut).