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Librarians do engage in "selecting, acquiring and processing documents,
making them available to the public, conserving them..."  And I've done it
and I like doing it.

But for me the really interesting side of the work is in helping users
find these documents, and, even more, in helping users figure out what
documents they want to find. These are traditional functions too--they
arose because the librarian knew better than the patron what information
there existing, that could be found. Therefore, they could translate the
users question into documents, and if they had good sensitivity, could
translate the users unexpressed needs into a question.

This has normally implied person-to-person contact, but not necessarily.
Providing subject and author access (otherwise known as metadata) is a way
of doing it, and we have learned that it must be done in a very
sophisticated way to do much good. Neither the libraries' traditional
devices nor the current web devices do well for this, except in the hands
of a really experienced user, which in practice usually means a librarian.
The embarras de richesses is not just a catch phrase, but a real obstacle.
Stevan, being an enlightened user, recognizes that "navigational and
classification help are always welcome." But the digital medium by itself
will not "breed" the necessary means: intelligent analysts from a variety
of backgrounds working together will invent the means--and I do not think
this process will be either rapid or easy. That Stevan's still thinking in
terms of navigation and classification shows the persistence of
pre-PostGutenberg ways of thought. I don't know a good metaphor, but I
think people ant to find, not navigate, and have things arranged to suit
their idiosyncratic modes of thought, not a classification scheme.  I
don't know how I want my personal information space to look like--I
haven't experimented enough. I wouldn't reject a virtual library image,
and in any case I wouldn't need to impose my image on others.

Whether libraries should be primary document providers is unclear to me.
We are moving slowly in that direction, but we are moving primarily not
through the distribution of the current output of our scholars but through
the distribution of our rare materials and manuscript archives. That we
might be the most appropriate scholarly agency for institutional
self-archiving of current work sounds logical, but may not be the best fit
in terms of university funding and politics.  I am one librarian who
thinks we should take it on and find out, but that's only my personal

David Goodman
Princeton University

> Subject: Rethinking "Collections" and Selection in the PostGutenberg Age
> Join the debate at: http://www.text-e.org
> on "Libraries in the Digital Age" (Grunberg et al. 2002)
> Below is my own commentary -- SH
> ---------------------------------------------------------------
> Rethinking "Collections" and Selection in the PostGutenberg Age
> Stevan Harnad
> Librarians, in virtue of their profession (ex officio, so to speak), are
> being propelled toward the digital future even faster than their users.
> Yet they are still not seeing far enough, hence not thinking radically
> enough. They are still thinking in terms of incoming "collections," a
> Gutenberg, object-based view, updating only their notion of the medium of
> the collection (papers, CD-ROM, online). I think this is short-sighted.
> What is needed is a PostGutenberg, bit-based view, of distributed access
> rather than local acquisitions.
> There will still be some selection, but there will no longer be
> collection. Digital "holdings" will be distributed worldwide, more like
> the current "interlibrary loan" model, but for all "inventory" (which will
> only be virtual) and not just for those works that are not "owned"! In
> other words, there will be site-licensing and/or pay-per-view for
> accessing the bits, which will not be held in a local "collection,"
> particularly (though sometimes it might be easier or faster to store some
> bits locally).
> Yes, there will be some selection and taste exercised in designing the
> local license agreements, because no library will be able to afford
> limitless access to all bits for all its users (and, n.b.! we are only
> speaking of non-give-away bits now: I will return to the special case of
> give-away bits shortly). But these will only be default options, because,
> as is true with interlibrary loan today, in principle, despite the limits
> of a library's specific, selected holdings, today's user can, by special
> dispensation and intervention, usually get a hold of unheld works too. (A
> digital library, by the way, is largely a consortium of users, giving the
> users greater access than if they had to pay for it individually.)