Friday, August 19, 2011

What if Hollywood remade ‘Desk Set’?

Photo still from Desk Set
An information overload.

One of the texts in my online studies for Library and Information Technology reprints a photo still from “Desk Set,” a 1957 movie starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In it, Hepburn is the director of a corporate research library.

Tracy’s character has been brought in to install a super computer that can supposedly look up any fact quicker than Hepburn’s staff of reference librarians. The movie ends with victory for the librarians when the computer blows a fuse.

I was reminded of that film this week during my reading on reference services for one of my Cuesta College courses. “Libraries in the Information Age” by Denise K. Fourie and David R. Dowell state that reference librarians and technicians must increasingly help patrons evaluate information for credibility.

People are turning more and more to the Internet for information, instead of to sources that traditionally have been vetted for accuracy. Where better to turn than to a library professional for aid in navigating information online?

“Many industry leaders see this as the librarians most significant role in the future” (Fourie 180).

Thinking about “Desk Set,” I began to wonder what if “Desk Set” were remade today? Perhaps instead of being threatened with replacement by a physical computer, Hepburn and her librarians were faced by corporation officers increasingly turning to the Internet as their source of information.

The Internet is far different from the databases available through library subscription. In the case of the EBSCOHost legal database  available to Lake County residents through our public and law libraries, each item in the database has been curated by a professional.

In today’s remake, perhaps Tracy’s modern counterpart has been hired to demonstrate a meta-search engine that trolls vast swaths of the Internet at once. To the corporate heads’ thinking, who needs the staff librarians when everything can be looked up online?

I believe that in this updated scenario, librarians would continue to be viable. Perhaps the future of the corporation could hinge upon a decision to be made based on information gleaned from the Internet. Hepburn’s librarian could dramatically expose the piece of information as a hoax.

Checking for attribution of an online article with an author’s name, weighing that author’s name against documented expertise, verifying whether an article has been subject to professional editing, identifying who -- if anyone -- has financed publication of the article and verifying whether the article cites primary or secondary sources -- perhaps these are not the materials for an explosive Hollywood ending, but evaluating information for criterion that my textbook reading groups under credibility, bias, currency and appropriateness (Fourie 181) will increasingly need to be considered in a medium to which anyone can publish.

As the text states, “The same tool that allows brilliant insight to be communicated worldwide at near the speed of light allows any fool to broadcast lesser thoughts just as efficiently.”

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