Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gathering what is scarce

When Ben Franklin started up The Library Company of Philadelphia, books were scarce and expensive. Franklin's flash of inspiration was figuring out how to make them accessible and inexpensive. And thus, the idea of the public library was born.

Fast forward 280 years. Information is no longer scarce or expensive. What is scarce and expensive is compiled, indexed, findable, useful, high-quality information and having someone know where to find it. The days of libraries putting a book on the shelf and having that provide enough of a value to our community to justify our existence is over. We still need the book, yes, and at the same time we need to show our communities what is truly scarce and how libraries are the best model out there for managing scarcity, be it 18th century scientific tracts or 21st century databases.