From the Director – 8/13

Message from the Director

Information explosion. The first time that phrase was used was in 1961.  The United States was just getting into the Space Race with the Russians who had put the first man into orbit that year after having launched the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957.  Little did we know then about the continued explosion of information!

Using the total knowledge available in 1 A.D. as a unit of measurement, French economist Georges Anderla theorized in 1973, that it took until the year 1500 for that amount to double.  The new level of knowledge, he said, doubled again by 1750 and then again by 1900.  The next doublings, all progressively faster, took place by 1950, 1960, 1967 and 1973, making the amount in the latter year 128 times greater than in 1 A.D.  Experts today say the doubling is taking place in a year or two. . .or faster!

With the Internet and digitization, not only is the amount of information continuing to grow at an exponential rate, but access to it is growing, as well.  OCLC, the world’s leading library consortium, has documented some of that growth.  It took OCLC 41 years, from 1967 to 2008, to accumulate 100 million unique bibliographic records.  It took only three more years to reach 200 million records and two more to reach 300 million!  The one billionth holding record took 38 years but another one billion were added in 8 years!

Cleveland’s own Overdrive provides another striking growth rate. “The first 100 million eBook checkouts in OverDrive-powered libraries took 10 years,” said David Burleigh, marketing director and Shaker Heights resident. “And the next 100 million is only going to take 14 months.”

As one futurist put it, knowledge is increasing so fast that “no single person can keep up with it.”  Therein, I believe, lies some of the future of libraries.  People are constantly talking about how so many things are available on the Internet, but the sheer amount of knowledge is overwhelming.  That is not to mention the fact that “in demand” knowledge is usually not free!

Newspapers and magazines are struggling with this “free versus fee” issue. The “Newspaper Death Watch” website has chronicled a dozen major North American newspapers that have gone defunct from Honolulu to Halifax with the Rocky Mountain News in between.  Others, such as the Orange County Register, are not allowing access beyond their homepage without a subscription.  Our own Plain Dealerhas drastically reduced its staff and curtailed home delivery as of August.

According to Moore’s Law, computer speed and memory capacity doubles every two years, which has been the case for nearly five decades.  That means since 1965, when the “law” was first described, computer speed and storage have grown at 2-to-the-24th-power, or nearly 17 million, times!  Is it any wonder that the real information explosion is just now happening?

And as the amount of information grows, it costs less and less—to the point where it is almost free.  But who will be the impartial guides that bring users to the information they want in a reliable and useful format.  Do we really trust the commercial ventures of Google, Apple, and Microsoft to be unbiased?  Libraries have been and will continue to be the “Free to All” service organization that people turn to for unfiltered and authentic information.

Luren E. Dickinson
Dickinson@shakerlibrary.org