25 Year of the Web + Future of Libraries

It’s not a secret that I love the Berkman Center. A recent Berkman Buzz email points to John Palfrey’s reflection on 25 years of the Web alongside David Weinberger’s thoughts on the future of libraries and how other influencers will create that future.

Many people think the Web will make libraries obsolete. Well, it’s been 25 years and many changes have happened, but how many libraries have embraced those changes and run with them? How many of us use libraries more because of their digital resources or because we found a pointer to something in a collection while searching the Web or because we can access something remotely through a library’s website?

David writes:

That’s why it’s a tragedy that libraries are barely visible in the new knowledge infrastructure. What libraries and librarians know about books and so much more is too important a cultural resource to lose.

That’s also why we need libraries to be out where ideas and knowledge are being raised, discussed, contested, and absorbed. Everywhere there’s a discussion on the web, everything that libraries know ought to be immediately at hand. Yet this hope for libraries is unlikely to be realized primarily by libraries, for two reasons.

John writes:

[The Web’s] impact is a consequence of the brilliance of the design, how it builds upon other networks, and how it allows for others to build on top of it through new ideas.

As we celebrate twenty five years of the Web and what it has meant to societies around the world, we ought also to consider what we might accomplish in the next twenty-five years. Consider three institutions that have already been changed by the Web and which will no doubt change more in the coming two and a half decades: education, libraries, and journalism. Each of these institutions is essential to healthy democracies and relies upon a web that remains free, open, and interoperable. In an increasingly digital world, the importance of these institutions is going up, not down. And yet, in each case, the Web is too often perceived as a threat, rather than as an opportunity, to these institutions and those who work in them. And if the Web itself becomes closed down, controlled by private parties or by government censorship, we will curtail opportunities for extraordinarily positive social change. With great imagination, compelling design, sound policy, and effective implementation, each of these institutions might emerge stronger and better able to serve democracies than before the advent of the Web.

Both posts are worth a closer look. Some of you will appreciate what John says about journalism and the Web.

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