9.5 Theses about the Library: Or, Why the Library Is the Greatest Information Technology

After writing 9.5 theses about technology, I thought a similar exercise would be helpful for presenting my thoughts about the library.

A number of these theses were included in a keynote presentation I gave a few years ago, which explored the meaning of the library through past memories, future expectations, and present actions. The ninth thesis may be the only controversial one, but I want to argue that it follows from the others.

The theses:

1. Information is fundamental for human existence: we seek it to survive as well as thrive—to eat, to mate, to learn, to create, and to understand ourselves and our role in the universe.

2. With the creation of information artifacts some five millennia ago, information became more materially fixed, more reliably transferable across time and space, and more powerful.

3. Libraries were created to provide immediate and long-term access to information artifacts—especially textual and portable works—that were important within a particular culture. This cultural intention involved the selection, collection, and mediation of fixed expressions of knowledge to and for members of a particular community.

4. The library became the primary institution for sustaining the human information process and an important infrastructure for shaping individual and collective attention and agency.

5. The library forms attention and agency by archiving memories of what we know, inspiring our imagination of what we may hope for, and enabling us to act in the present.

6. We are living through an information revolution that elevates the library’s significant role in cultivating attention and agency, individually as well as globally.

7. Digital technologies add a digital dimension to the library—including new resources, services, and spaces—which the library scales for human use.  

8. New and emerging technologies will continue to enhance libraries’ curation and innovation of the information process, even as autonomous and intelligent systems become more integrated into library operations and infrastructure.

9. Absorbing the best affordances of predecessor and successor information technologies, the library is the greatest information technology ever created. 

9.5. The library is a material and formative information technology for every age.