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Notes from the Technology Trenches - March, 1999

By Elizabeth H. Klampert, Published on March 15, 1999

Elizabeth H. Klampert is the Director of Library Services for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Ms. Klampert was formerly a litigator for five years, specializing in professional liability litigation. Before attending law school, she was a corporate librarian for twelve years, holding management positions in libraries in a number of large organizations, including Rainier National Bank in Seattle, Deloitte & Touche, and Merrill Lynch, both in New York. She received both her BA in English and MLS from the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her JD at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.


It’s been a slow month on the technology front. The Microsoft trial is in a lull, the impeachment trial is over, and even Y2K is beginning to pall (if recent articles are any indication). This does not mean, of course, that there is nothing to write about – au contraire!

First, I note that Linux, the alternative operating system that I’ve mentioned in this column from time to time, is beginning to look more and more like a viable alternative to Windows. In the past month, a number of major computer companies have announced Linux liaisons: Compaq will ship certain of its servers preloaded with the Linux operating system; IBM will include it in its Netfinity line of computers; Hewlett-Packard has also begun preloading Linux on some of its computers; and Sun has provided a license to a group of Linux developers to develop Java-based tools. I note that the Web site has recently changed ownership, so you may want to visit another, currently more helpful site like Linux Resources for more information.

Next, I was part of a panel on Internet research (among other topics) on March 4 at the Magazine Publishers of America. That morning, the New York Times had a timely article in its "Circuits" section on the issue of Internet research and why it is useful to be skeptical while doing it. The article, Whales in the Minnesota River?, had among other things, a picture of our very own Genie Tyburski, noting that she runs a Web site on "reliable research online."

While the article was generally helpful, it struck one sour note. The author, toward the end of the article, said, "many librarians are learning to navigate the world of the Web, and they may just point an information-hungry consumer elsewhere." Considering that, on the contrary, "many librarians" have been in the forefront not only in navigating the Web, but also have created many tools to do so, this was an extraordinarily inaccurate statement. I was pleased to see, in the March 11 Circuits’ Letters to the Editor that Monica Berger pointed this out, noting that, "if they sometimes steer users away from the Web, that is because the best information source may be off line." Thank you, Monica.

Moving right along, the March 8  issue of The New Yorker (the one with the infamous cover by Art Spiegelman), had an article entitled "Overload" (by Alexander Stille) about all that data being created that virtually no one will be able to save. Those of us who have been dealing with data, both pre and post electronic, are not surprised to hear this. Stille notes, among other things, that "In theory, computer technology should be more helpful in the storage of text … So far, however, computers have only compounded the problem." (Do I hear a resounding chorus of "duh" here?) He goes on to give the example of the National Archives’ attempt to copy the electronic files from the Reagan White House only to find that they "are gibberish as they currently stand…" Given the short-term nature of most e-mail programs, the problems the government is experiencing may only be the beginning. Microforms, anyone? By the way, it will come as no surprise to anyone that The New Yorker’s articles are (not yet) available on the Web, although there is a rudimentary Web site.

For anyone planning to watch the Oscars this month, I’m sure you know that the movie "Shakespeare in Love" has been nominated for a number of them. Since I also know that some of you are now asking yourselves how this fits into a technology column, I will enlighten you. In the "Circuits" issue of March 11 that I’ve referred to above, the historian Theodore Roszak, pointed out, in a delightful essay, Shakespeare Never Lost a Manuscript to a Computer Crash, that the movie showed Shakespeare in the act of creation using, of all things, a quill pen. His point? "[T]he computer contributes nothing essential to the life of the mind." While it sounds very Luddite-like, Mr. Roszak has a very good point. I commend the article to you all.

Finally, I recommend to you Thomas Petzinger, Jr.’s new book, The New Pioneers (Simon & Schuster, 1999). Petzinger’s focus is on the women and men who are creating new opportunities in this strange new economic world we now operate in. He touches on a number of issues, among them, "knowledge management," which, he remarks, is just another oxymoron. In fact, he says, the companies that are pushing this concept "don’t understand the most basic, vital fact of knowledge: It cannot be controlled or compiled." Make no mistake. He understands that "information can be managed … but no one can manage knowledge." It can, however, be shared. Again, librarians will not be surprised by these observations – I hope you will read the book.

As I write this, snow is falling. For those weary of winter, here’s to the arrival of spring and all those great technology shows!