By Keith Clouten
As a small boy, I grew up in a quiet little village. It was a stable community, with very little new building taking place, and so and there was little change from one year to another. As I look back now, there was something comforting about life in that settled little village. Life was fairly predictable.
I remember hearing in the early 1950’s that a new invention called a “computer” had arrived in Australia and was being installed at Sydney University. This new wonder occupied the space of several rooms, and performed calculations faster than any human brain could do. The name of this wonder machine was SILLIAC. I remember its name, because it seemed funny to me that such an intelligent object could have a name like SILLIAC.
The global information village of those days was very much like my home community–stable and predictable. Of course, no one talked about a “global village” in those days — the expression would not have meant anything to us. When we talked about “information” (we preferred the word “knowledge”) we were talking about print on paper, bound between covers, stored on shelves. A library was a building–a place–where knowledge was stored and preserved. Knowledge was something you could carry in your hands–local, concrete, and measured in volumes or linear feet.
In those days we understood very well that there were “haves” and “have-nots” in the Adventist library world. Libraries in North America had it all–fine spacious buildings (comparatively speaking), large and rapidly growing collections, staffed by qualified librarians. In contrast, the typical Adventist library abroad had a small collection of uneven quality, a very inadequate book budget, cramped quarters, and it was very lucky if it had one qualified librarian.
In the setting I have described, “resource sharing” meant that the libraries in the “home” field (generally perceived as North America) reached out with some form of help to the libraries in the “mission” field. The resource sharing help took several forms:
In more recent years, North American library assistance has taken some other directions, as the very specific needs of rapidly developing institutions abroad have come into focus. The establishment of extension programs, affiliated campuses, and summer schools in overseas countries has led to a variety of forms of library assistance:
Two years ago the American Library Association introduced a Library Fellows Program, funded by the United States Information Agency, which places international librarians in U.S. libraries to enhance their professional experience. I think that ASDAL could coordinate a program like that for international librarians in Adventist institutions. Such programs require a lot of careful planning and effort, but can bring rewards and benefits to both the host institution and the visiting librarian.
The kinds of assistance I have been describing–sharing of printed resources and expertise–will continue to be useful. In spite of some rather profound changes which I will describe in a few moments, I firmly believe that our emphasis on books and other traditional media will continue into the future. We need to continue to discuss and explore methods of sharing print materials and also cooperating in acquiring them more quickly and less expensively. These are all good ideas.
Now, however, let’s look at two contemporary phenomena which will affect how we do business together and share our resources in the future. These two things are producing upheaval and rapid change in libraries around the world. They are propelling libraries from being keepers of collections to providers of services. The two phenomena are: (1) the computer revolution, and (2) the information superhighway.
When the first computers, such as SILLIAC, came on the scene fifty years ago, we had no idea that this new invention would one day revolutionize our library world. We did not forsee that a clever calculating device would become a powerful communicating device. As computers developed through several “generations”, their power, speed of operation, and storage capacities have reached the place where vast amounts of information can be stored and processed.
ENIAC, the first modern computer, was built in 1944. It took up more space than an 18-wheeler tractor trailer, weighed more than 17 Chevy Camaros, and consumed 140,000 watts of electricity. With all that, it could execute up to 5,000 simple arithmetic operations every second. Our mouths dropped open with wonder.
Today, my home 486 processor, built on a tiny piece of silicon about the size of a dime, uses less than 2 watts of electricity, and can execute up to 54 million instructions per second. As a matter of fact, I am wearing more computing power on my wrist than existed in the entire world before 1950.
Well, speed and power is one thing. The other is storage capacity. Hard disk drives in computers have developed rapidly in their storage capacity. Capacity has been almost doubling each year since the early 1980’s. (My first home computer in 1985 had a standard 10 MB hard drive. The new one I bought late last year has an 800 MB drive, and I’m already wishing I had made it 1 Gigabyte.) Last year 9 GB drives became available, and this year 18 GB drives are on the market. Cost has reduced on these to around 25 cents per MB.
The invention of the CD-ROM disk ten years ago revolutionized the storage of bibliographic information. (e.g. Multi-volume, multi-media encyclopedia on a single disk.) CD-ROMs and other memory devices are now capable of storing vast quantities of full-text, which can be scanned into electronic form. A RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) array might handle 300 GB of stored information. That equals the contents of 100,000 volumes, which is larger than some of our libraries.
The second factor affecting our libraries and resource sharing is an even more recent development than the electronic computer. It is the development of new information and communication technologies, with the twin characteristics of high speed and high capacity. When you combine the ability to store vast amounts of information electronically in computers, with the technology to send information between computers anywhere in the world, you have the recent development of what has become known as the Information Superhighway.
It is fascinating to review the rapid development of modern communications technologies:
Lets suppose your home is in Los Angeles, but right now you are in Bracknell, England, and you decide to use your American Express card for a purchase. Getting credit approval involves several return journeys totalling 46,000 miles over phone lines, back and forth. The job can be completed in 5 seconds.
This is where the Information Superhighway comes in. When I began work on this paper three months ago it was described as a linkage of 40 million people worldwide through 70,000 computer networks. Those figures will already be considerably out-of-date, because the Information Superhighway is growing faster than the inflation rate of any national economy. Using the Internet, it provides near instantaneous communication between institutions, libraries, scholars, and ordinary citizens.
The Global Information Village of today is nothing like the quiet, stable community in which I lived as a youngster. It is more like a subdivision undergoing major development. “Under Construction” signs and detours are everywhere. Many of the streets are unpaved, heavy equipment is in use, there are unsightly piles of soil and clay where new foundations are being dug, and everywhere there is noise, confusion, and even chaos.
The village has buildings that are in various stages of construction. Some are hardly started. Others appear to be finished–at least on the exterior–but step inside, and you’ll discover that they are already moving walls, enlarging rooms, and generally trying to make improvements.
Some of us see our libraries undergoing re-development in that kind of subdivision. We feel like displaying a sign in our lobby that reads something like “Pardon the mess while we renovate.” And unfortunately it looks like the renovation work will take some time. The mess may be around for quite a while.
So change is the order of the day. “You think you understand the situation, but what you don’t understand is that the situation just changed.”
The result of the electronic technologies we have talked about is a new emerging concept in library service–the Electronic Library. It is also frequently referred to as the “virtual library”. The literature has a lot to say about “virtual libraries” and “virtual reality.” What does that mean?
I will try to illustrate what it means with the story of the Velveteen Rabbit. The Velveteen Rabbit was just a stuffed toy owned by a little boy. Or was it just a stuffed toy?
“What is REAL?” the Rabbit asked the little boy’s skin horse toy one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you, and a stick-out handle to wind you up?”
The skin horse shook its head. “Real isn’t how you are made,” he said. “It’s a thing that happens to you. It takes a long, long time. When a child REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
Well, the Velveteen Rabbit waited quite a long time. Then, one day when the Boy was called away suddenly, the Rabbit was left out on the lawn till long after dark, and Nana had to go and look for him because the boy couldn’t sleep unless he was there.
“Fancy all that fuss for a toy!” said Nana.
The boy sat up in bed. “He isn’t a toy,” he said. “He’s REAL.”
Well … perhaps we could say he was virtually real to the boy.
The analogy isn’t perfect, of course, but when you get to the place where you no longer keep a 30-volume encyclopedia on your library shelves, but instead you access it through cyberspace from a computer server thousands of miles away, it becomes well, almost real. Virtually real. What you have is a “virtual” encyclopedia.
The emerging virtual or electronic library provides some new levels of service:
The final point deserves our attention. Resource sharing in this rapidly developing information environment has a great many more possibilities than it had in the past, and the near future is filled with interesting possibilities for the networking of Adventist libraries worldwide.
What lies ahead for the developing SDA subdivision within the “under construction” global information village?
1. First, the meaning of “resources” has changed. Resources used to mean collections–of books, periodicals, and even audio-visual materials. Resources meant things that were real–they were there, on the shelves, or on loan to a person; they could be counted, measured, acquired or withdrawn. They were bibliographic items that your library owned.
But resources are now more than that. Libraries will always own printed materials, but there is more to the library than its books and periodicals, the things it owns. More and more, when we talk about our library’s resources, we must include the electronic resources that we can access. Those resources might be limited to indexes or other bibliographic information stored on CD-ROM disks, or that we dial into via the Internet. It is likely that more often those resources will include the full-text of books and periodicals that we will never own, but which are stored somewhere out there in cyberspace–it could be anywhere on the face of the earth–that we access from a computer workstation or terminal in our library.
Those items that we access are not things that we own. Maybe they don’t seem as real to us as books and videotapes. But like the Velveteen Rabbit they are “virtually real” and potentially valuable to the students and faculty who are library patrons.
So we see a fundamental change from the concept that a library’s strength lies in its physically owned resources of books and journals, to the concept that its strength lies far more in the degree of access it is able to provide its patrons to the global information databank.
2. Not only has the meaning of “resources” changed, but “sharing” is beginning to mean something equally revolutionary. Let me describe what we have started to do at James White Library, which will illustrate what I mean.
Our online public catalog, or OPAC, known as JeWeL, is accessible first of all from several dozen terminals and computers throughout the library building. But since the library is part of a campus computer network, you can also search our catalog from anywhere on campus–teachers offices, dormitory rooms, classrooms, computer labs, and so on. However, our campus computer network is linked to the Information Superhighway, the Internet.
So a librarian at Helderberg College, half way around the world in South Africa, may search our catalog at any time of the day or night, any time of the week, and find the record in our catalog for a book which she is adding to their collection. She identifies the record, downloads it across the Internet in MARC format to her computer workstation, and then into Helderberg’s own OPAC. The cost to Helderberg College library: nothing.
A student at Avondale College in Australia needs some information about GC President Folkenburg. He uses the Internet connection from his library in Australia to search JeWeL, and from the menu on the screen selects the Seventh-day Adventist Periodical Index, an electronic database which is mounted on our system at Andrews. He searches the database covering Adventist periodicals published during the last 15 years and finds several articles by Folkenberg, as well as biographical information about him. The cost to the student : nothing.
These things are happening at places around the world right now. They will happen increasingly as more and more overseas libraries get Internet connection. And there are exciting future possibilities, including a consortium of SDA libraries to share access to electronic databases which are too expensive for many individual libraries.
3. Sharing itself becomes multi-directional. What I described earlier was one-way sharing–the “haves” reaching out a helping hand to the “have nots.” But the word “share” implies that each participant has something to offer the other. “Sharing” is supposed to be a two-way street. It assumes that the traffic is not all one-way. Can this become true of Adventist libraries worldwide?
I firmly believe that it can be and it must be. We are increasingly a multi-cultural church and society, and one in which the most rapid membership growth is occurring within the so-called Third World. The focus is shifting from a single powerful spotlight on North America to a diffused beam that encompasses the globe. Every culture has a richness of its own, a literature of its own, a uniqueness. Every Seventh-day Adventist institutional library has a role that is important and unique. Your school in Senegal or Sri Lanka should not be a “little America”, nor should your library be a scaled-down collection of North American publications. Each library’s collection development policy should emphasize the acquisition of significant locally published materials. Wherever you are located, you have the special opportunity and responsibility to collect exhaustively and preserve SDA materials (books, periodicals, reports, pamphlets) that are produced by or about the church in your geographic region.
The day is arriving when the materials you have in your collection can be shared globally, without the originals ever leaving your library. Photocopiers and fax machines are already widespread around the world. As the future unfolds, electronic scanning devices will become generally available, whereby printed information may be scanned into a computer and transmitted via the Internet to a library or scholar in some other part of the world who needs access to the particular information that you have and are preserving in your library.
The Adventist Subdivision within the global information village is still in the midst of heavy construction. I suspect it is going to be that way for quite a while. Virtual libraries, virtual reality, is not quite here yet. Some of us may be waiting quite a while before our libraries, like the Velveteen Rabbit, become “real”– virtually real — to our patrons.
One of the major challenges we face is the inequity between the technologically advanced and those in the early stages of development. There is still the gulf between the information “haves” and the information “have-nots.”
This very week in Chicago, the American Library Association is holding its annual conference, and is expected to vote an important policy statement on “Access to Electronic Information, Services and Networks.” I am quoting from a draft copy circulated three months ago:
“Although we live in a global information village, many persons do not have access to electronic information sources because of economic circumstances, capabilities of technology, and infrastructure disparity. The degree of access to electronic information divides people into groups of haves and have-nots. Librarians, entrusted with the stewardship of the public good of free expression, are uniquely positioned to address the issues raised by technological change.”
Yes, there are some incredible challenges. This afternoon’s paper by Gilbert Abella will address some bold and visionary steps that we might take to bridge the gulf. It will take a lot of cooperation, and hard work, and vision, and determination.
We’ve talked about the real and the virtually real. Because this is a conference of Adventist librarians, I am going to tell you that there is a third kind of reality, an ultimate dimension to our knowledge quest. Let me finish the story of the Velveteen Rabbit.
After many years of being real to the little boy, the Velveteen Rabbit became worn out and dilapidated, and eventually was thrown out with the garbage to be burned.
Of what use was it to be loved and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear trickled down the rabbit’s shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.
And then a strange thing happened. A beautiful fairy appeared. She came close to the little rabbit and kissed him on his velveteen nose.
“I am the nursery magic Fairy,” she said. “I take care of all the playthings that children have loved. When the children don’t need them anymore, I turn them into Real.”
“Wasn’t I real before?” asked the little rabbit with great surprise.
“You were Real to the Boy,” the Fairy said, “because he loved you. But now you shall be Real to everyone.”
And the fairy took the little Rabbit away into the woods, and he discovered he could frolic and dance with all the wild rabbits. At last he was Real.
There is a day coming when we will discover what is really real. About that time we will transfer operations from the dust and noise of the Global Village to a Cosmic City where everything is wonderfully and finally real.
Keith Clouten is Library Director, James White Library, Andrews University