Recently, I reached an intersection of a few marginally related things that made me think about how important books, information, and libraries are to the inspiration of culture, education, and technology.
I started reading L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. I say “started” because I think at this point I have stopped. I follow Nancy Pearl’s guideline regarding when to stop a book, and this one is going to go into the breakup pile for me. The actual book is pretty terrible but the introduction to the book is a gem of nonfiction storytelling. Hubbard spends quite a bit of time discussing just what science fiction means, what the genre contains, and what science fiction as a genre has done. Hubbard claims that during the Golden Age of science fiction, he, along with other notables writing at the time and working with scientists, conspired to write in such a way that mankind was inspired to go to the moon. Since man did eventually travel to space and the moon, Hubbard implies strongly (he pretty much flat out says) in the introduction that it is because of science fiction that man can dream such things and then succeed in doing them. Whether his conclusions are correct and credit for space exploration does lie at the feet of science fiction writers is not as important as Hubbard’s belief that science fiction is ultimately about people and the dreams it inspires in them.
The same day I read Hubbard’s introduction, I was listening to Slice of SciFi, an excellent podcast of all things geek. In the news segment, they mentioned a group working to create a real life medical tricorder. A medical tricorder, for those readers who are not complete geeks, is a handheld device from Star Trek that scans the body and diagnoses illnesses. The X-Prize Foundation is hoping to launch a competition for a medical tricorder next year. Science fiction does fuel our dreams, especially when backed by a $10 million dollar prize.
As librarians, we know is that books and access to information can be fuel for people’s dreams: dreams of different places, different lives, and different possibilities. Science fiction, specifically, can inspire us to dream technology beyond what we thought possible and cause us to ask, “What if?” We know information is power, and most educators know this to be true as well. We spend our entire careers working so a kid can come through our doors, learn something new, and be the next generation’s Steve Squyres.
There is also no doubt that technology rules our lives. Everything we own, even our refrigerators, can access the cloud. There are classes and seminars on keeping up, learning new tech, and unplugging for our sanity.
Technology’s priority in our lives is increasing, but sometimes it seems that the importance of the book is decreasing. Perhaps it is only the format that is losing favor, because information seems to be just as important as it ever was, maybe more so since we seem to demand to have it all the time, everywhere.
The real question, the question we librarians have been asking, is: Where does that leave us? Do we redefine what we do (hint: it’s not books) and still stay true to who we are--providers of equal access to information? What I know is that there is no doubt that technology, which has answered so many other questions, will answer this one as well.
Perhaps we should all reread our favorite SciFi novels for clues as to where we could go in the future. A good book reread is never without merit.