An Authoritative Opinion on Libraries and Authoritative Opinions

I have been invited to give a talk to some librarians from the City University of New York (CUNY) on next Friday.’

I’m looking forward to the talk. Only one thing remains to be done. I need to prepare it.

But I’m not worried about that. I’ll use parts of some of my other presentations, and I’ll try to add something new.

With luck that new part will have some authority. If it goes well it might even make me an authority on libraries. You’ll get to read that new part as soon as I publish this post, for this is it, or at least most of it.

I’m not worried that I won’t get it done. I can speak with this on some authority. I know myself quite well, and I have given many presentations. Moreover, I think it fair to say Iam an authority on open-source. If you doubt this, just read some of the 500+ posts I have published in this blog in just over a year.

I also expect the talk will be well-received. And if it isn’t, then I’ll tell the audience they were wrong, as an authoritative source had informed me that it was a great talk.

That informed, authoritative source would me, or “moi” as Ms. Piggy would say, Blogger Dave.

I can say this because I received confirmation just a few hours ago. I noted that someone reached this blog by a search for “authoritative source.”

I then gave this string to Google and noted with interest the #1 hit, the top of the hill, the king of the roost, El Supremo.

That would be me.

You can find out for yourself. Google search on “authoritative opinion” and you will be directed to Reference.com’s Web match for “authoritative opinion”.

It returns a post I wrote almost a year ago, An authoritative opinion on the accuracy of the Holocaust movie Fateless.

I stand by that post. I trust my source, and published the post as I thought it might be of general interest, especially in that within just a few years the last survivor of the Holocaust will die, and we well then be forced to rely on the testimony they left behind.

But this search says something even more. It says that I am the leading provider of authoritative opinions. Google found 85,600 “authoritative opinions,” and mine is #1. Yeah!

Yes, you got it. Blogger Dave, at least in the view of the folks at reference.com, a site that is “Powered by Google” no less, considers me one of the most authoritative people on this planet.

Good news for me. Bad news for Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Britney Spears, and especially bad news for the NY Times own Tom Friedman, I man I refer to as Smart Guy #5.

Too bad, Tom. You may be “Smart Guy #5,” or even “Smart Guy #1,” but I, Dave Shields, am “Authoritative Guy #1,” at least in the view of the folks at reference.com and the folks who wrote Google’s search engine. Eat your heart out, Tomster.

The results returned by reference.com, while interesting, are not surprising. For a number of months I have maintained a page, Trivia, in which I record some of the surprising matches I have observed on search strings that led to people viewing one of my posts. See for example, “reference.com on Holocaust”,posted last January, in which I first noticed odd results from reference.com.

Though many will I am sure just shrug this off as a problem with the web, or a trivial observation, I believe it merits more serious consideration.

Lord Acton observed over a century ago that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

But since power is just a one manifestation of authority:

Authority tends to corrupt, and absolute authority corrupts absolutely.

Moreover, power and authority share a common property:

Power and Authority can be monetized.

For example, the folks at Google have made what I refer to as “oodles of boodle” by virtue of becoming the recognized authority on web search. Indeed they have made so much that the founders have their own private Boeing 757, a plane close to the size of our own President’s plane, Air Force One.

Similarly, the Microsofties made oodles of boodles by leveraging the franchise to the operating system ceded to them when IBM chose Microsoft as the provider of the operating system for the original IBM PC. So much oodles of that boodles that Bill Gates was for many years the world’s richest man, and his co-founder Paul Allen was not too far back in that lofty pack.

I mentioned to a fellow member of Temple Beth El in Chappaqua that I had observed a few weeks back that Wikipedia had no entry for Rabbi Chaim Stern, the Rabbi of our Temple for over three decades. Though that might not seem surprising, Chaim was also the editor and author of most of the liturgy used by the almost two million Reform Jews throughout the world. He is the author of “Gates of Prayer,” the basic prayerbook of Reform Judaism, as well as “Gates of Repentance,” the prayerbook for the Days of Awe.

He is one of the leading Reform Rabbis of the past half-centry, yet Wikipedia has no entry for him.

I then said I was going to start a web site to honor him, in the hope that members of Temple Beth El would share some of their memories about him. I have done that, though I haven’t yet posted any content. See the Rabbi Chaim Stern Project.

Our society faces many challenges. Among them are:

  • The amount of information is growing at an exponential rate;
  • Much of that information is in digital form;
  • Much of the digital information is currrently in proprietary formats created and licensed by Microsoft;
  • Information is a source of authority, and hence a source of power;
  • Power and authority can be monetized.

What to do?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions.

I do know the folks whom we will expect to provide the answers, for they are the only ones who can be trusted to handle this power and authority.

That would be our librarians.

Librarians are at heart educators. As such, they don’t get the respect and attention they deserve.

If we don’t give them that respect and attention then we are going to pay a price. That price would be the loss of independent oversight over the exponentially increasing amount of information, most of it in digital form.

Librarians have as their mission the assembly of collections of information and the techology to catalog and search those collections. We call these assemblies “libraries.”

Librarians seek to catalog more than what happened in the last year, or the last decade, or the last century, or even the last millenium.

Their goal is to catalog as much information as possible, going back to the time when man or woman first drew on a cave wall; or told a story — as did Homer — that would be passed on for generations until it was set down in writing; or played a song that would be repeated over the generations; or gave a sermon on a hill, or “mount.”

The reason we trust them so is that they seek to master information but promise not to become authorities themselves, as they seek to impartially provide us as many sources as possible so we can review them and make our own decision.

Most of the information available to man will soon be in digital form.

Some things cannot be digitized. For example, I have spent several hours this past week viewing three of the ten panels that comprise the greatest bronze relief sculpture in history: The Ghiberti Doors. They are astounding, yet you have to see them with your own eyes to appreciate that man is capable of creating such beauty. They are impossible to represent.

It’s also notable in that these three panels currently reside a room that bears the name “Watson Library,” for it was once the research libary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The library still exists today, though in quarters adjacent to the room used to display the Ghiberti Panels, and I spent an hour or so on my most recent visit talking with some of the Met’s librarians.

But most of the information will be digitized. Indeed, only the information that is digitized will become the most precious, as it will be amenable to search, reproduction, and transformation.

And since it is in digital form we are all going to have to help librarians master this technology.

An important part of the technology will be in open-source form. I believe it must be in open-source form based on open standards, for we need to provide technology that can survive for years, decades, and centuries.

Humanity cannot rely on technology that is dependent on the next release of Windows, or that is created and owned by Google.

It must be created in an open form, to serve of humanity in a way that can be shared and refined by all.

I hope to explore some of these ideas during my meeting with the librarians, and will publish a followup post after the talk.

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2 Trackbacks

  1. […] An Authoritative Opinion on Libraries and Authoritative Opinions […]

  2. […] This is yet another example of my being one of the Google’s most cited sources on “authoritative opinions,” as described in my 2007 post An Authoritative Opinion on Libraries and Authoritative Opinions. […]

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