November 04, 2005

An Online Library from Science Fiction

Greetings. With all of the controversies swirling around putting books (especially library collections) online, I'm reminded of a storyline from Piers Anthony's first published science-fiction novel, Chthon.

Our hero Aton (actually, "hero" isn't really the right word) visits a planet that is basically the known galaxy's central library. It has almost literally endless stacks of books collected over centuries, still kept (for now, but probably not much longer) for historical reasons, even though nearly all of their contents have long since been available via computers from anywhere in the galaxy.

When Aton shows up, one of the few librarians is very pleased to have a visitor -- they're few and far between -- and offers to help Aton with some reference work in the stacks.

The librarian immediately and correctly deduces (in an offhand remark) that since Aton wants to use the stacks, he is probably looking for illicit information, given that all attempts to access "proscribed" data though the computers are automatically logged and reported, even though such information would not be accessible online. But the stacks are far too vast to be selectively expunged.

I wonder ... At some point in the future of our real world, once most or all of the contents of our libraries and other written works are online rather than existing in easily available physical forms, will the powers-that-be resist the temptation to track reading habits along with just about every other aspect of our lives? How long after the implementation of significant online libraries will it be before our access and search records become data mining bonanzas to be used against those persons seeking "proscribed" information as then defined?

Aton was ultimately able to find what he was looking for without interference. Will we?


Posted by Lauren at November 4, 2005 08:12 PM | Permalink
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