After reading Thomas L Friedman‘s columns in the New York Times for months and part of his earlier book on globalization, The Olive Tree and the Lexus, I decided to pick up his book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty First Century. Some of the technology aspects of the book have dated a bit since the book was first published in 2005, but other aspects of the book remain fresh and very interesting. At times, the book can be scary as Friedman lavishes page after page describing brilliant, driven and successful scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs from India and China. You almost have the sense that if you make the slightest misstep, a thousand highly educated Indians will immediately take your job through outsourcing. In continuing to read through the book and critically evaluate it, I realize some of these concerns are slightly exaggerated. Still, the highly competitive nature of the global economy cannot be denied. Friedman suggests that there are some skills that remain critical in helping individuals (and organizations) thrive in an age of global competition: learning how to learn, navigation, compassion and curiousity. I think librarians exhibit and can foster all of those qualities. I’d particularly like to focus on the navigation idea since the concept of “knowledge navigators” was explored in the SLA alignment project.
Friedman writes about navigation in the seventh chapter of The World is Flat:
Second, we need to think more about how we teach navigation skills. As the world flattens out, more and more knowledge, information, news, software, commerce, and communities will reside on the World Wide Web. Out children will interact with each other, with the wider world, and with all that resides on the Web without many filters. Therefore, teaching them how to navigate that virtual world, and how to sift through it and separate the noise, the filth, and the lies from the facts, the wisdom, and the real sources of knowledge becomes more important than ever. When the Web first emerged, I used to joke that if I had one fervent wish it would be that every modem sold would come with a warning label from the surgeon general that would say: “Judgement Not Included.” (pg. 310-311)
If I ever have to explain or define what “information literacy” is again to a non-librarian, I will refer them to this quote. A high and ever increasing volume of information does not eliminate the need for librarians in any way. Formerly, librarians based their work on a scarcity of knowledge, but I’ve learned that every kind of abundance creates a different need or scarcity elsewhere. With an abundance of information, judgement and time to organize it and make use it of it is lacking. That’s one way that librarians will continue to stay relevant and valuable.