Thursday, June 11, 2009

Constantly Transitioning into Change

by Robyn Gleasner

Change. It is the constant in our equation for life. Now I’m sure you’re wondering, “How exactly can change be constant?” Change and transitions have been around since the beginning of time. Without change, without evolution, languages can die, cultures can be forgotten, and ideas can be lost. Without these vital components, human life would not be as we know it. Thus, change is inevitable for success and for survival.

And yet, since the beginning of recorded time in those early Lascaux caves, people have feared change. It challenges our very core, our epigenetic beliefs and innate taxonomies, our moral compasses of right and wrong – where and how we classify things; good or bad/heaven or hell, T (Library of Congress classification for technology) or N (Library of Congress classification for visual art). For example, the printing press revolutionized life in the 1400’s, making it possible for Martin Luther to spread his ideas in the 1500’s to lead the Reformation. Martin Luther did not believe there should be an intermediary between an individual and God. This meant that people should be able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves without a priest. With Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press this was a possibility.

The technology forced people to change – common people could embrace this technology and in their minds come closer to God. Because common people now had access to information that previously had belonged only to the Church, the government and the Church's way of thinking and way of life was also challenged. The saying “knowledge is power” has been ingrained in society for a very long time. For example, between 1751 and 1772 Diderot printed his Encyclopedia or Dictionary of the Sciences, the Arts, and the Professions. While we may consider these huge volumes of information of encyclopedic knowledge outdated today, in the 1700’s they were quite revolutionary, especially with the Church. These books had information to teach people how to dye their own cloth as well as a number of other things that only the Church had access to previously. Diderot and his encyclopedia provided an opportunity for people to step onto equal ground with the authorities. It is no wonder that the Church was afraid of such a transition.

Just as in the 1500’s and the 1700’s, technology again has forced us to change today. The Internet and hypertext have opened us to a wide new realm of possibilities for the dissemination of information. Similar to Diderot’s encyclopedia, Wikipedia has been criticized and praised for its groundbreaking attempts to supply the public with the largest range of information subjects written by common people. And once again we have to grapple with our epigenetic need for authority control and our conventional and safe scholarly citations. Wikipedia is providing an opportunity for all people to exist on the same information plane, both scholars and high school students alike. Change is certainly a scary thing.

Once again technology has forced us to change and to evolve, not only as professionals and human beings, but our entire institutions – libraries, museums, and archives – as well. We must embrace change in order to exist. Are we afraid? Of course. We are predisposed to fear the unknown. But as Darwin showed us in 1864 with his theory of natural selection, only the fittest survive, only those best able to adapt to a rapidly changing environment survive and prevail. I don’t know about you, but my fear of non-existence overrides my fear of change.

And so change really is the constant in our equation for life. As a country, we have a new president with new ideas and we have many transitions to make in this coming year. We all deal with transitions and changes in our daily lives. As library students, we are constantly learning new technologies and new platforms. Some of us are transitioning from school to career, some from career to school, while others are transitioning to new cultures and new places. The Call Number is not exempt from change either. We are embarking upon the exciting realm of the blog. We encourage you to embrace this change: please have an opinion, share what you think, and contribute to the vast knowledge of our ever expanding profession.

Robyn Gleasner is co-editor of The Call Number. She will receive her MLIS in December 2009 and is currently the library assistant at Laguna College of Art Design.

Photo taken by Jason Lister.

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