Tuesday, May 16, 2006

meta / universal library

In a previous post, I went daydreaming about a sort of universal library. Kevin Kelly's "Scan This Book!" just over at New York Times Magazine is a good overview of the dream of a "universal library", a library collecting all information in all media (across all time). Of course such a thing is impossible, despite the apparent optimism in Kelly's article -- and I think he makes the complexities of implementation abundantly clear. See also The Gypsy Librarian for more good questions about this subject. Angel is right to point out the obvious hitch in these bold dreams: not many of us, on balance, have computers.

I don't think it's possible to detangle the politics from the question of universal access. Kelly doesn't get into it, but there is a reason (besides the obvious technical and litigious barriers) that such a universal library doesn't exist. There's a reason that such a library will probably never exist. Simply put, it's not in the interest of the powerful to allow universal access to the world's information.

Not until the nature of "power" and leadership is radically altered will true empowerment for all people be seen as a good by the world's governors. It would take a true democracy, at least (if not an even more radically distributive and open system), in which "all" the people who have an interest in access are able to legislate and execute such access for themselves -- in other words, a system where every person actually has meaningful self-governing powers.

We're lucky that we can even have such conversations about the possibilities of universal access -- most aren't so lucky. And Google as the great enabler? Google censors searches in China to keep cozy with those in power. As long as it makes better political/business sense to keep people and information apart, this "universal library" won't be possible.

Who benefits from a universal library? Who takes a hit when we get the information to the people with impunity, or when people get the information to themselves? File "universal libraries" under post-Singularity daydreaming.

But that doesn't mean we have to give up.

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Watching: Harold Bloom on BookTV
Feeling: churlish as hell
Surfing: swish-e.org

1 comment:

Angel, librarian and educator said...

As long as we can talk about it. Like you point out, many around the world cannot even talk about this, let alone dream of it. As for the revolution, I don't know if it will be televised (or blogged, wiki'ed, etc.), but I would hope in time people, "all" people as you point out, will legislate and implement that access for everyone. I'd like to think we at least have a start, and that maybe, in some way, our profession can help towards that idea.

Best, and keep on blogging.

P.S. Thanks for picking up on my little post.