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D-Lib Magazine

November/December 2010
Volume 16, Number 11/12



The Future Isn't What It Used To Be

Laurence Lannom
Corporation for National Research Initiatives



If I could give credit for the phrase I've used as the title of this short piece, I would, but I've seen it used many times over the years without attribution and to the best of my knowledge its origin is lost (I'd love to be corrected, of course). It is a clever way of saying that the future is hard to predict and that most of us get it wrong when we try. This seems particularly true of technology. I grew up in the 1950s reading about my future vacations on the moon. It doesn't look like I'll ever get to the moon, but I'm composing this editorial on an iPad from which I will dispatch it to another magical device many miles from here and from which anyone on the planet can read it. From the perspective of 1958 this would have been harder to envision than the moon rocket, which was a bigger/faster/better version of what existed at the time. It is considerably easier to envision improved versions of what we have than something completely new.

Depending on how long you've been involved with digital libraries, you may find it interesting to apply this idea to your current vision of where it's all going compared to ideas you may have had fifteen or twenty years ago. It is certainly the case for me when I think about some of the earliest meetings and ideas. For many people I worked with back then it was simply a given that libraries would disappear and be replaced by networks. What we had then, which was physically centralized collections of books and journals, would simply be replaced by digital versions of the same which would be accessible on computers over networks. Bigger/faster/better. What has happened, however, is considerably more complicated. Second and third order effects begin to dominate. To what extent would those same increased computing and network capabilities also change all of the existing processes and conventions that underlay the libraries of the time, e.g., the publishing business models and the legal and social frameworks underlying science and education? We don't know the outcome, but those changes are arriving and we're not done with them yet.

These changes require us to continue working on the fundamentals of managing and disseminating information and this issue of D-Lib reflects that requirement. What worked for libraries for twenty years cannot just be layered on top of network access via computers. This issue addresses metadata complexity (ILOX), digital document standards (PDF-A), collections (subject repositories), rights management (in China), and 'references' (linked data). We'll continue to try to keep our readers up-to-date on these topics going forward and we appreciate your company.


About the Editor

Photo of Laurence Lannom Laurence Lannom is Director of Information Management Technology and Vice President at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), where he works with organizations in both the public and private sectors to develop experimental and pilot applications of advanced networking and information management technologies.
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