The road to digitalization
As humans, adaptation has been a key part in ensuring the survival of our species. Over centuries, our ability to meet our basic necessities, such as hunting animals with spears and creating fire to cook, has evolved into mechanized world of slaughterhouses and electronic ovens. Our understanding in how we preserve language continually changes as well, as we evolve and adapt from the oral modes of thought and expression to written modes (Ong, 1982, p. 6). When Ong (1982) explores the differences between oral and literate cultures, he identifies that we can use both sound and written words as a mode of expression and thought process to communicate effectively (Ong, 1982, p. 33). As we continue to adapt in the digital era, we must to move forward from our once oral to literate culture, and into the digital world. Our breakdown of the physical barriers in a library will allow text and information to conglomerate in the virtual world and sorted as a centralized filing system. This way, our goal to educate and promote our cultural heritage is strengthened, creating a sense of global citizenship in all learners.
Since the introduction of text, we have developed an obsession to copy, reproduce, and organize books in a centralized location, such as the Great Library of Alexandria, for people to share and consume knowledge (O’Donnell, 1994). The development of the printing press allowed easier access of printed materials, and thus, create an enlightened, literate society. However, as we now enter into the digital era, our definition in understanding text continues to evolve. The integration of computer and the internet has transformed our perception of reading dramatically, where the development of the Google Book Search attempts to scan, capture and reproduce all texts electronically (Kelly, 2006). Although technological advances there are plus and minuses to every technology, we must adapt and become familiar so we can ensure the continuity in preserving our culture.
The purpose of libraries
As Grafton (2007) suggests that with the development of electronic virtual libraries, it threatens to destroy the very essence of a traditional library. He describes the importance of a physical library, to fully experience the library to inspire authors. His implications of a digital universal library suggest that users will go through informational overload, where they cannot process excessive information. This being said, the point of a centralized library is to provide a space for people to access information accurately and efficiently. Thus, the switch from a literal space of a library into a virtual space of digital essence encourages an active flow of information, in which text is more accessible than ever before (Sendov, 1997, p. 418). This, in fact, would encourage the essence of what we have tried to do in the past, to preserve language throughout the next generation. With the physical barriers of libraries removed, new information and communication technologies can supply learners with information to make informed decisions (Sendov, 1997, p. 416). Students will not be limited to searching from their local library, which may not have original images, and with a click of a button, have remote access to informational archives, such as researching online collection and documents of the Vatican library.
With new technologies
New technologies from the past, such as the microphotography, were meant to deal with the excessive amounts of books that would overflow in the library in the past. However, initiatives such as film- and reprint- based libraries failed it were unprofitable (Grafton, 2007). With the development of Google Books, more comprehensive scanning and being able to generate revenue by searching books, allows them to remain in business and to continue scanning. Grafton further questions the contents that go up into these virtual libraries, their copyright issues, and how they will be managed and made available to users. As there are so many different platforms to choose from, different companies have different ways to present their information. Although there are issues with copyright, Google attempts to scan books that are no long copyrighted (Kelly, 2006). If authors would like their books not be public, they can request for Google to remove their books from the scanned pages. Although there are some occasional errors in scanning book pages, the attempt by the company unifies millions of books consolidated into one server is a huge effort to upkeep and maintain. As Kelly (2006) suggests, our dream to have all documents, all books, and all works in all language is an old one, and we must embrace new technologies that has the possibility in becoming the library of libraries.
In many ways, the development of a virtual library encourages globalization, where we understand the connections and links formed online. By fostering global awareness of the world, we would be able to share our world’s cultural heritage, which may be sometimes unavailable to local places in the world, due to the inaccessibly of print throughout the world. Bao (2006) supports this argument, and continues that our digital era will create a global ethics environment, allowing for cultural exchange and integration among different nations through one virtual space (Bao, 2006, p. 41). Since the beginning, our invention of text, as defined by Gelb, from limited writing systems of pictograph, to hieroglyphs that represents sounds to words, calls upon an organization of writing (Gelb, 1952, p. 27). The digital space is now an extension of text and technology, and we, as humans, will continue to adapt to ensure the preservation of our cultural heritage.
Bao Z. and Xiang K. (2006) Digitalization and global ethics. Ethics and Informational Technology (8), 41-47.
Gelb, I.J. (1952). A study of writing: The foundations of grammatology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kelly, K. (2006, May 14). Scan This Book! The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/14/magazine/14publishing.html?pagewanted=all
O’Donnell, J.J. (1998). Avatars of the word: From papyrus to cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
O’Donnell, J.J. The virtual library: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Web site: http://web.archive.org/web/20070204034556/http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/virtual.html
Ong, W.J. (2002). Orality and Literacy: The technologizing of the word. London:
Sendov, B. (1997). In the era of digitalization and communication. Prospects, 27(3), 415-426.
You effectively start the argument for digital information overload by going back to the evolutionary needs of human being. Societies that could assimilate and act upon information, whether it was weather patterns or herd migrations, thrived and invaded other societies not so quick on the uptake. The need for more information has always been there, through libraries and Internet resources as you mention. Of course, many have argued that human now have access to way too much information, more than we need to thrive as a species, and therefore most of our screen time devolves into hours of kitten videos or celebrity gossip. Admit it, we all spend way too much distracted when we should be studying 😉
A colleague of mine remembers hearing a lecture in his pre-teaching undergraduate days, how societies all have their ups and downs with creativity. Times of great originality and innovation, say the 1960s, are followed by a trough (or valley) of pale imitations, much like how the 1980s saw a lot of knock-off movies, sampled music and retro fashion. Hopefully our current civilization is climbing out of this rut, but prequels, reality TV and lip dubs may be a sign that we are all too comfortable with much-too-much information the Internet has provided 😐