This chapter uses the example of J. C. R. Licklider and his works (1960, 1965, 1968) to introduce ideas about the technological future of libraries. It then examines how the concept of the library relates to the provision of information that the internet and its associated companies (e.g. Google) offer, and speculates on the consequences of digital information replacing non-digital information.
Libraries: evolution or revolution?
One of the most difficult things to do is predict the future. It is obvious looking back why what happened, happened, and what the important developments were. Looking forward, though, is fraught with problems. We each have a unique viewpoint. We know that some things that we now think of as important will not be in the future, and vice versa. We can only guess, not predict. Part 5, Library Technologies, investigates in more detail the current relationship between libraries and technology.
There is a rich and expansive literature on the development of, and possible futures for, libraries. Since the purpose here is to cover topics concisely, one example, a canonical one, from this literature will be chosen as the basis for discussion here.
J. C. R. Licklider was very possibly the first person to prophesy the death of the library, as he saw computer networks as bypassing libraries and delivering information direct to users (Licklider, 1965). To test the validity of this prophesy it is pertinent to know more about Licklider. What did he know? What was his perspective? He was writing a long time before the technological landscape we see today.
In 1960 Licklider wrote a famous paper which outlined the need for simpler interaction between computers and computer users. He was a pioneer of artificial intelligence (AI). Unlike many others in the field at the time, he never felt that people would be replaced by computer-based AI: ‘Men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the routinizable work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking’ (Licklider, 1960).
Licklider was speculating about a global computer network, something he dubbed the ‘Galactic Network’, in 1962.