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Let patrons evaluate materials - in you automated catalogs. A daring proposal from a leading educator.
THE CONTINUING EVOlution of information technology will soon enable, and indeed require, changes both in the design of information systems and in the way librarians define their roles. Why will these change take place? The answer lies in the convergence of technological know-how and patron need. Technology has now developed to the point that we can dramatically improve our library information systems' selectivity and performance. Increasingly, patrons will expect from librarians and information systems advice about the authoritativeness, or intellectual worth, of material by making available user-supplied data (USD) - evaluative comments from other users about specific holdings.
Software capable of such feats is rapidly evolving - the buzz word is hypertext. What I propose is simply that 1) access mechanisms to bibliographic information and to full text will gain hypertext-like flexibility, and that 2) USD will dominate the data generated by libraries or publishers in those systems.
Cynics might say that we must needs develop USD-friendly systems because library users will want them whether they need them or not. In fact, our patrons need such systems desperately.
The information explosion has continued unabated, despite Derek Price's 1963 prediction (1) that the exponential growth of scientific literature would have to level off, probably in the 1970s. Not only has that never happened, but there is no indication of it leveling off soon. (2) Conversely, Brian Aveney has speculated that the growth of information technology will cause information to mushroom even more rapidly. (3) Perhaps Aveney's theory explains why Price's prediction failed. In any case, today's debate is not over whether the information explosion will continue, but merely about its growth rate.
But while the information explosion continues to grow, our ability to selectivity retrieve is not keeping pace. True, a parallel information controllability explosion has made us better able to store, transmit, and selectively retrieve appropriate material in a Boolean sense. (4) But paradoxically, we have created a new problem for ourselves by achieving some measure of control. We can retrieve more articles than ever based on a concept, a keyword, or combinations thereof. But how do we have weigh the likely utility of those articles? In …