A few days ago I attended the heard Jay Jordan speak about the future of libraries at the NELINET Library Directors Forum. Among other things, he talked about the Local WorldCat pilot project as a significant shift in the way libraries will provide bibliographic information to library users. (The University of Washington Libraries is the first to launch its Local WorldCat interface.) Growing out of recent findings that nearly 90% of all information seekers begin with an Internet search engine (like Google, Yahoo, etc.), OCLC determined that making WorldCat a search engine for all of the world’s “curated” (professionally selected and cataloged) information is a way to enable libraries to compete. He suggests that OCLC can do things with its massive database and computing power that local libraries (even major research libraries) simply can’t do effectively. The premise of Local WorldCat is that libraries can benefit from an individualized interface to such enhanced data services and computing power that is delivered via the network rather through local computing resources. Though he didn’t name it, this represents a significant shift toward what is sometimes called “cloud computing.”
This morning’s NY Times article by Steve Lohr and Miguel Helft points to Google’s adoption of that strategy in much of their technology.
“To explain, Mr. Schmidt steps up to a white board. He draws a rectangle and rattles off a list of things that can be done in the Web-based cloud, and he notes that this list is expanding as Internet connection speeds become faster and Internet software improves. In a sliver of the rectangle, about 10 percent, he marks off what canâ€™t be done in the cloud, like high-end graphics processing. So, in Googleâ€™s thinking, will 90 percent of computing eventually reside in the cloud?” (“Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft”, NY Times, Dec. 16, 2007)
Cloud computing is a significant trend that could radically change the way libraries provide access to information resources.