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Tonight I went to the Bard Graduate Center and heard Ann Blair give a lecture called “How Early Modern European Libraries Managed the Information Explosion”. The BGC is awesome; I hadn’t been there in a while, but in the past my 20th century design history addiction had taken me there for amazing exhibitions like “Wearable Propaganda” and even better “American Streamlined Design”. This was the first of a series of library lectures that BGC will hold annually; they are offering a new course called “Bibliographic Information in the Digital Age”. That was what brought me there actually: Bibliographic Information in the Digital Age. Unfortunately that’s not really what I got.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not dissing Ann Blair, who is clearly a frighteningly intelligent woman doing incredible research. I’m regularly humbled and awed by people who do the kind of work she does, in much the way I was humbled by the “renaissance computer” video the other day. I guess I just got stuck going from “The Future of the Book” one day to the “The History of the Book” the next. Hey, I love books. I love history. Blair, talking about the book as an object, a cultural artifact, a means of determining the way people interacted with, organized, and distributed information, is really fascinating. I’m way into history, and I’m way into objects and artifacts, but let me tell you something: this was NOT a lecture about Bibliographic Information in the Digital Age.

There really are so many interesting conclusions that can be drawn when you start looking at the “information explosion” of early modern European times and the “information explosion” of the 1990s and 2000s. I’ve said before in my blog that I think it is really important to look to the past to determine what is right for the future. I’ll reiterate it again and again. But why is it that so many people get caught up in being EITHER a historian OR a futurist?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how an organization like a public library can put together a solid long-term strategic plan, one that sets goals and then prioritizes those goals in an efficient manner. Public libraries create metrics and statistics to measure the success of the services they offer. A strategic plan should be based on data that illustrates historical performance and then is extended to project a logical future outcome. If, over a 10-year period, a population grows by 10% every year, isn’t it a good idea to recognize that fact and assume the trend will continue? When we do this we gather data as historians AND futurists. It seems simplistic when described this way, but it process enables progress. It is fun to arm oneself with history, but without projected forward vision history lectures are relegated to obscurity, the arcane, academia, the elite… cobwebs…

Thank you Ann Blair for giving me some history with which I hope to shape a slightly more informed future.

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