Calling forth the 21st Century Digital Librarian, please…

Take ebook rental to a better price point, say $.99 for 30 days, for all books and this will almost end undergraduate brick/mortar library usage. (See

Add completion of Google Books and Google Library…or whatever that has been or will be relabeled, and all but archival manuscripts may soon be fully on the web.

Add to this that many archives are working hard to digitize and make available their collections and…well, my friends, what will we do with that edifice we call the library? There’s lots of square footage in there.

More importantly, what will those librarians be doing?

I love the library and my librarian colleagues. And the days maintaining large collections of paper books, no matter how aesthetically pleasing they are to hold, smell, and caress with hand and eye, are drawing to a close.

But now, I need my librarian colleagues even more than I did before. After all, I could navigate the card catalog, or whatever we started calling it when it went to computer. The real need for me and my students is professional and scholarly digital curation.

I can’t read all the books on a topic that I now find available. I certainly can’t keep up with the best digitally created content on the topic.

I need something smarter than a web aggregator or a search engine search. Twitter is great for getting links to sometimes relevant news from my “friends” but when I get serious about information, I need a to rely on a big head, not a long tail (see Clay Shirky on institutions vs. collaboration | Video on

I need someone smart and academic to curate introductory information sources (create topical bibliographies = books, articles, digital content). When I, a professionally trained historian, get interested in chaos theory and network science, I need something like… “Chaos Theory for the Non-Scientist” that takes me to two accessible, must-read-first books (that I will rent for 30 days for $.99) by notable folks in the field, three solid articles (that I will read on JSTOR), and an active blog site or two. And this needs to be kept relatively up-to-date. Not stale and dated like The American Historical Association’s Guide to Historical Literature (, which of course in its day was GREAT.

To such curations, I can also point students.

I can hear the gasps from a stodgy colleage in a Research 1 school now, “What you aren’t keeping up in your field, are you that lazy! You call yourself a scholar?!”

Why yes, thank you, I can curate in my own particular field — mostly — but my awareness of even related fields in my discipline that I once kept up on has gotten so stale that I find myself recommending students to 20 year old “classics” (are they or are they just books I read new and thought were good then?) in those fields. For instance, when some student asks about American economic history and I scan my bookshelves for something to hand her, I know somebody has surely moved past Gabriel Kolko and Robert Wiebe by now (did I say 20 year old classics?).

Add to this that when one teaches broad introductory undergraduate courses, and ask students to write research papers, it would be great to have a wide array of professionally pre-curated collections to point them to once they’ve gotten through their a quarternary overview of the topic via wikipedia.

This I need. For many of my colleagues in library services, I suspect that such work would be more stimulating and fulfilling than making latte’s in the library coffee bar. And I’d really use it and I think my students would to.

I suppose if we can’t pull this off with our information professional workforce here in the States, Google or somebody will likely get some folks in Madras who can.

(Angel Investors interested in putting some millions into such a project can contact me here 🙂 )