FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Twenty one years in the online world

Posted in England by folkestonejack on October 20, 2016

Twenty five years have passed years since the first public website went online sometime in 1991 and this month it will be 21 years since I built my first web page.

Although the World Wide Web was made publicly available in 1993 my first encounter with the web didn’t occur until two years later. I didn’t seek it out – I just happened to start a postgraduate course in 1995 which included a short course in building web pages from the relatively simple HTML code of the day. I was hooked from that moment on, eagerly creating my own pages and exploring the mainly text based websites of the early web community. I didn’t anticipate then how much this discovery would underpin my future career.

Twenty one years on I am still enjoying the challenge of creating and curating good online content in my day job, but I am also acutely aware of the dangers the myth of the internet presents to our store of knowledge.

Don’t get me wrong. Every day I am astonished at how much more is available now than I could ever have dreamed of in the era of the early text based web. Yet I know that there is so much more out there sitting on the shelves of our libraries that would easily repudiate the insidious claim that ‘everything is available online’ if it could speak for itself.

Sadly, these respositories of knowledge are under attack. The House of Lords debated the role of libraries in the UK earlier this month and the scale of the losses given was quite shocking. Since 2010 more than 500 libraries have closed and almost 9,000 librarians have left the profession.

Each time I hear that a library has closed or a collection has been junked I have to say that my heart sinks, knowing that the information world has just got a little bit smaller. However, the drain of professional expertise is just as damaging for the long term health of our library system. The ability of professional librarians to know precisely what a collection holds and mine it effectively is sadly far too easily overlooked.

I am an optimist by nature and I still think that the overall impact of the internet is positive in exposing the hidden wonders of our archives and libraries to new audiences. However, there is an incredibly fine line between a rich digital future and a digital catastrophe. The challenge for the hybrid information professional of today is to work within the system towards that better future, never forgetting the importance of our libraries.

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