Information Revolution – Happy Me

Lately, my job has greedily consumed my schedule.  As a result I have neglected this blog.  Though I enjoy Yawper, and my other hobbies and interests, I have no complaints.  You see, I am one of the fortunate few that love their jobs.

Not having the time to organize and write a proper argument, yet itching to post something, I want to explain my zeal for my job.

The clinical way to explain my position is to cite that I am the executive director of an association of public and private academic and research libraries.  I prefer to think of myself as the political representative of perhaps the greatest collection of knowledge in any place, at any time.  My organization is home to 150 college, university, and research libraries – from community colleges to world-renowned institutions.  In New York State politics, I am the academic library guy – a tiny fish in a mid-sized pond, but the happiest fish around.

So many people throughout history have wished to live through important or at least interesting times.  Most of those wishes have historically been unfulfilled.  A precious few of those people not only get their wish, but get to play a role in the historical moment.   We are living through one of those historically important moments, and – albeit in a very small way – I have the good fortune to be on the fringe of that action.

In the history of the world, from the earliest hominids to today, there have been three great historical moments for information.   The first occurred around 250 B.C. in Ptolemaic Egypt.  For about 200 years, before being burned down by (allegedly) Julius Caesar himself, stood the Great Library of Alexandria – perhaps the most important of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The Library at Alexandria is a milestone because it was the first, great attempt to collect, organize, and preserve information.   It represents a revolution in the accumulation of human knowledge.  In all likelihood it had no affect on the masses of people living at the time of its operation, but from that point on, information became a valued commodity.

You have probably already guessed the next milestone.   Mainz, Germany, 1450.  Johannes Gutenberg gifted the world a moveable type printing press.   As an aside, there is evidence of clay-type printing in China 400 years earlier, but that is not the hallmark of this second revolution.  The insular Chinese did not use their technology to spread information, nor did they use it to print books.

The Gutenberg press ignited a revolution in the dissemination of information.  From that moment forth, knowledge could be spread and shared.  Individuals of even modest means could acquire and possess knowledge beyond the stories they could remember.  Gutenberg forever changed the world.

Today, we are living through the cyber age – the third great moment in the history of information.   Topping Alexandria and Gutenberg, the volume and reach of information collected and shared is unfathomable.  Adding to that, more information is created, by more people, than ever before.  We are awash in knowledge, and it has never been more accessible and inviting of participation.   The implications are staggering, and surely most of us will never imagine, much less see, what evolves from this true milestone in world history, but we are here at the start.

None of this happened because of me, and none of it needs me in any way.   The tsunami has been let loose.   Yet I take great pride and greater pleasure in having the tremendous luck to witness this moment, and in an infinitesimally small way, try to educate people on its potential.  Through my job I am (not necessarily succeeding) but trying to make that information a little more accessible, a little more attainable, and a little more valued.

Because of my job, my free time has of late evaporated.   But I have no complaints at all.  I am lucky to have a good job at all, and absolutely blessed to have one that I love.


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