Democratization of Information

I’ve been reading Too Big to Know by Harvard professor, David Weinberger. His whole premise is that we are richer for the vast expanse of knowledge available on the internet. Book learning is static with a beginning, middle, and an end with no room for further discussion on any topic. Yes, there is validity to “long form” knowledge with vast uninterrupted periods of reflection afforded the author. However, the internet disallows the authority of the publisher as the filter for what gets printed and what doesn’t. Just because one doesn’t have the hallowed credentials of PhD or upper management, does not automatically make one the single authority on a specific topic. It’s the “network of experts” that can hold the key to greater knowledge.

Research is messy, much unlike the clean, tidy parameters presented in a final product or book. Blogs and list-servs allow for a give and take creating an organic form of knowledge which is always shape-shifting. Weinberger refers to a “distribution of decision-making” with various crowd-sourced activities like creating a street map in Port-au-Prince immediately following a Haitian earthquake or the individual inspection of thousands of miles of ocean in an effort to find pieces of a downed Malaysian airliner.

Yes, there is a lot more stuff out there in the digital realm and yes, we have to filter through the good and bad. However, the community of knowledge created by such a democratic platform far outweighs a singular published authority, according to Mr. Weinberger.

Weinberger’s premise has me thinking about the presentation of resources the library provides. Are we misrepresenting the possibilities of learning by sticking to our book and article formats? Libraries are the definition of authority control, but attempt to make a number of viewpoints available within their collection. Is Wikipedia a pernicious evil or an amazing demonstration of crowd-sourced knowledge where the sum of its parts far exceeds the individual entity? The answer lies within each of us and our own internal filters not those imposed by publishers and elite peer review committees.

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