Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What's an "Inforcrat"?

I just returned from a trip to Washington, DC. I was equipped with my iPod Touch and my MacBook Pro - hey I'm fully connected - and ready for anything. But you know what? I couldn't use either device for email of web-browsing anywhere in two airports (Omaha and National), the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Starbucks and Georgetown University School of Law! Why? I don't have subscriptions to the "pay as you go wi-fi" at the airports, hotel or Starbucks and I'm locked out of the Georgetown network because I'm a visitor. In the course of a stimulating visit in DC in which we discussed the future of law libraries, it occurred to me that if the future is becoming digital, then who will have access to digital information?

Well, the answer is becoming more and more, "The people who pay and the people who are somehow or other on the inside track." What are the ramifications for our democracy? More and more, it may turn out that the "haves" are becoming the "infocrats", if that's a word. How will libraries be able to maintain their roles as custodians of the culture if they can only provide access to information to those who have Kindles, iPhones, Blackberrys or the like? Isn't our challenge to maintain free unbridled access to public information in the face of the digital age?