Reference Books/Information and the Organization of Knowledge

Much like Kevin and Plato’s Phaedrus, reference books/information and the organization of knowledge is a subject pretty near and dear to my heart.  It’s certainly an incredibly broad topic, especially with the advent of the Internet.  The rapid shift in content formats – from the traditional books and magazine publications to microfilm and microfiche to audio books to e-books – has created a whole new frontier of librarianship and challenges in organization.

We are in an age of moving from the physical libraries that have been around for thousands of years to things like the Google Books initiative, a project to digitize and make available online millions of documents and manuscripts, many very old and rare.  Google even recently donated almost half a million dollars to various researchers, like UCLA and University of Washington, to assess the academic value and impact of their undertaking.  Even on a more basic level, I see this digitization take place every day; I work in the newspaper and microform processing unit at Moffitt Library.  Partly due to budget cuts, we’re more and more frequently cancelling subscriptions to physical newspapers and relying on their websites for access to information.  With the more rare and valuable newspapers, such as those from India, we store them with the intent to eventually film them and make them more easily available for viewing on microform.  This intersection of various content forms is a good representation of the current directions of reference librarianship and the organization of information.

Expanding the frontiers of libraries and reference books is a difficult undertaking, but an entirely necessary one in the modern age.  Critics are beginning the question the value of physical libraries, but I for one wholeheartedly believe that librarians are extremely crucial to organizing and redefining the vast and expanding resources of information and the way in which we access them.  I want to point you guys to a couple things that I think are very relevant as well as interesting and entertaining.

  1. I’m finishing up a really fun book right now by Marilyn Johnson called This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.  Even the concept of a “cybrarian” was unheard of a decade ago.  If you have some time to read this, you really should.  It’s pretty enlightening about the plight of physical libraries today and the ways in which they’re coping with it.
  2. This Fox News Chicago story entitled “Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?” (here:  It’s got some rather sloppy reporting and a dismissive tone, but thankfully the Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey did a great job completely tearing it apart in her response (here:  Both are quick reads and good representations of both sides of this new debate.

Anyways, guys, I’m really looking forward to discussing this in class and hearing what you all have to say!

-Megan Riley

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