I’m currently blogging from the “Networking Uncommons” at the American Library Association‘s annual conference in New Orleans. I’m not actually a member of ALA (mostly due to financial reasons) but am accompanying The Princess as part of her entourage.
First of all, New Orleans is an amazing city–at least what I’ve seen of it, which has been primarily the convention center and the French Quarter. Bourbon Street is completely off the chain. Jackson Square is a beautiful site in the evening with gas lamps, street vendors, and people walking around having an wonderful time. Beignets at Cafe Du Monde. Oysters and etouffee at Acme Oyster House. We’ve been here a day and half and it has been awesome!
Like I said, I’m at the conference but more as a private citizen than as a librarian. I did, however, attend a very cool session with a number of big-time sci-fi/fantasy authors.
The panel was about their views as speculative fiction authors on the future of information technology. Everybody had some great insights and were entertaining speakers.
- David Weber : One insight that really struck a cord with me was his take on the proliferation of ebooks and its affect on the publishing industry. He foresees that ebooks could squeeze out the mass market paperback largely because both were developed to serve the same purpose: cheap, easily accessible, books. Hardbacks will survive because they are physical and artful.
- Bill Willingham : He had a very amusing take on information delivery within fantasy novels and such (the analogy of palantirs as a party line was brilliant!). As a writer, I also found his take on keeping information from protagonists (aka “information denial systems”) to be particularly apt. I also enjoyed the Dexter-Mamet rule, which essentially condenses two quotes from authors Colin Dexter and David Mamet into one take on research which is essentially (1) if you don’t know it, make it up and (2) write persuasively if not necessarily accurately.
- Carrie Vaughn : She presented a very insightful take on the generational nature of how we interpret information, based upon what expectations each generation has. For example, whereas older generations were brought up to believe that “the camera doesn’t lie”, people are now growing up in the age of “was that Photoshopped?”. As far a predicting the future in sci-fi/fantasy, we’re always wrong because we write about things we’re interested in now and these may not be of interest 5-10-20 years from now.
- John Scalzi : This is the second panel at a library conference I’ve seen Scalzi at this year. Either librarians are stalking him or he’s stalking librarians (I’m sworn to secrecy from the librarian’s end). He told a very amusing story about why it’s important that, if an alien ever makes contact, that the first group of people it encounters are librarians–because we’re the only group trained and conditioned to ask it “what information do you need?”, and thus promoting understanding instead of pursuing it for gain. He also reiterated the idea that librarians and libraries will never be obsolete because the need for a human interface will always be there.
- Orson Scott Card : He spoke to the many digitization initiatives taking place now and cautioned that the most serious problem facing such initiatives is the format fatigue. We must be able to read all of this digitized information–information that, in digital form, is actually nothing. If we lose the physical objects and our formats die, the information has not been preserved. He further spoke about the current state of copyright, stating that it has gone too far and is no longer serving the public interest. He believes that the copyrights of living authors should extend only past their deaths until their dependents come of age and that corporations should retain copyrights only for 10-15 years (ex: Walt Disney is dead and Mickey Mouse should belong in the public domain). Copyright was meant to serve the public interest and the current tightening of restrictions is particularly onerous in the scholarly community–scientific information and research needs to be shared in order to promote the advance of science. Also, he wanted to point out that PowerPoint is really just a filmstrip.
- Jim Ottaviani : Ottaviani is a librarian and creator of several comic books on the lives of great scientists. He spoke about Richard Feynman and his lecture on “There’s plenty of room at the bottom“, applying the concept to the storage and transmission of data in the future.
- Gail Carriger : This former archaeologist applied her studies of the past to look at the future, pointing out that all new technology tends to begin as something frivolous and then evolves into something more (metallurgy beginning with jewelry and then being universally applied, for example). However, the biggest difference today is globalization and the nearly instantaneous dissemination of technology and information on a global scale.
I had also gotten to listen to Ms. Carriger speak about her meeting Terry Pratchett as I attended a luncheon celebrating Sir Terry and his receipt of the Margaret A. Edwards Award. Unfortunately, Pratchett was unable to attend due to health reasons and the video he sent of his acceptance was not working, but his editor gave a very moving speech about working with him and read a letter that he composed in the event that things would go awry.
This has been a great trip so far and I still have two more days to go!