You may recall that at some point in the past few years this profession questioned its complacency over not taking the lead in developing a new generation of discovery tools. Put another way, we were kicking ourselves in the behind because we failed to capitalize on our search expertise to give the world a great search engine â€“ maybe something like Google only better. Well there was that group of librarians who believed they could create official catalog records for every site on the web â€“ all 8 billion of them and counting. That idea never went too far. Will the Internet give us another chance to show the world how we can provide a better way to find information on the Internet? It just might.
In the August 13, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek there is an article that gives a preview of a future iteration of the World Wide Web â€“ and they donâ€™t even give it a number. The web is predicted to, in the next five years (or fewer) become a three-dimensional web. It would be, as described in this article, a â€œgalaxy of connected virtual worldsâ€. Sitting at your computer your digital replica would go from stores to events to geographic locations â€“ all of them in 3D virtual reality.
So imagine if you will a web in which individuals could go walking through a virtual bookstore or library and possibly look into virtual books on virtual shelves. But where is the opportunity for librarians to develop the next great search engine. Well what if we could promote the idea of librarian avatars who roam the web waiting to be asked for guidance in finding information? Itâ€™s quite possible that the future virtual web will offer an information environment that is even more difficult to navigate then what we have today. Perhaps this service could have a name that would allow users to type in the name or verbalize it in order to call on a virtual librarian.
Does it seem outlandish or too outside the realm of what we do? I just noticed that Indiana Universityâ€™s library has signed a deal to partner with Cha-Cha to provide human-supported web research service. That strikes me as the right type of entrepreneurial advance this profession needs. Letâ€™s partner with the search companies to explore the possibilities of a new service. Our most likely barrier is not creativity and innovation, but finding the financial backing that propels such ideas. We need to pay attention to the development of this three-dimensional virtual web, and start early to propose a new way of connecting searchers to the information they seek. It would be a shame to find ourselves saying five or ten years from now, â€œIf only we hadâ€¦â€