Connecting Information in the Age of the "Library Economy"

Connecting Information in the Age of the "Library Economy"
By Greg Lucas, California State Librarian

The current global economy has brought its share of upheaval, financial and social, to every corner of the planet. Technological advancement drives this economy and, by their nature, technological advancements concentrate more money in fewer hands.

These transformative technological upgrades are happening at a faster and faster rate. Without regard to the color of their collar, millions of people in cognitively or physically repetitive jobs are being replaced by machines or apps.  

Sometimes the term “gig economy” is used to describe what’s happening.  Sometimes it’s called the “digital” or “platform” economy.

I call it the “library economy” because libraries offer access to information and provide spaces for the collaboration that fosters innovation.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT call this 21st Century economy The Second Machine Age in their book of the same name.

Whatever it’s called, the economy is fueled by innovation and information. We live in a world in which an almost infinite amount of information can be accessed through a device that fits in our pocket.

The Library Economy - and The Second Machine Age for that matter -  is about finding relationships within that information, creating connections, combining seemingly disparate elements to assemble something new of value.

Over the past five years, the State Library has worked to ease the ability of Californians to access that haystack of information through their libraries by, to date, connecting 800 of the state’s 1,120 public libraries to the same high-speed broadband network as the University of California, the state universities, community colleges and public schools.

The ongoing challenge is making it easier for someone to find the needle they’re searching for in the boundless information haystack.

Rather than the traditional keyword search method, Yewno Discover searches for connections and relationships. Yewno Discover’s results aren’t based on words. Instead, words and phrases are interpreted as ideas and the searcher sees for themself the concepts and semantic connections that are important to them. 

In other words, users can pinpoint what they’re truly seeking. This is an alternative that can be particularly effective for younger users, many of whom may not be deft at creating a precision keyword search.

The results of a search are displayed as linked circles – a bit like those models of elements high school chemistry students used to create. The central circle is the searched-for subject – Dr. Martin Luther King, say. Arrayed around it are circles of varying sizes with related subjects: Civil Rights, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Birmingham Jail, Mohandas Gandhi, March on Washington, Robert Kennedy.

Each student can delve deeper into any or all of these connections. Every essay could very well be different as students dig into what interests them most.

In the Digital Age, the volume of information is often overwhelming.  Yewno brings some valuable order to that chaos.


Jill Mathers