While working on my term paper I read two books, one library and computer focused, the other just computer focused. Both were good in their own ways and may be of interest to some of you.

If you want to know about digital libraries, From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure by Christine Borgman is a good place to start. The book was published in 2000 but is only a little dated. Much of what Borgman discusses is still an issue. I’m glad I read it late in the quarter because I could by then tick off the list of issues she goes over as we discussed them in class. In fact, it really helped bring everything together into a whole picture instead of the bits and pieces that form over the course of reading various articles on a single topic over the weeks. Borgman offers a fantastic historical perspective too. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in what digital libraries are or what is going on in digital libraries.

The other book, The Unfinished Revolution by Michael Dertouzos is nothing short of a call to arms to change the face of technology. He says people have been slaves to their computers for far too long. We change the way we work and think in order to make our computers happy. We waste too much time working through convoluted processes to make things work. It doesn’t have to be this way he asserts. And he would know, Dertouzos was the Director of the M.I.T. Laboratory for Computer Science from 1974-2001. He was also involved in the creation of the World Wide Web Consortium, the organization that developed international standards for the web.

Computers and computer design needs to become human-centered. Computers need to serves us, not we them. Yes, he gets a little wild in flights of fancy, imaging what computers that serve us would be and do. He imagines we will be able to talk to our computers ala Star Trek, but notes that your computer will be listening to you all the time and saying “Computer!” to get its attention is a bad idea. If you are talking with a friend and say “the computer shut down”, your computer will hear you and shut down. Therefore, when we can talk to our computers, we need to choose a word that we don’t use in everyday conversation. He imagines himself saying, “Shazam!” to get his computer’s attention. Can you imagine having business colleagues over to dinner and over the salad saying, “Shazam! It’s too cold, raise the temperature by five degrees.” Way to impress the boss.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting book. It is fun to imagine what computers can do for us, and if they really were human-centered, how much they can free up our time for other things like, oh, I dunno, reading. You don’t have to be a techie to enjoy this book but you should to be interested in computers otherwise it might be a bit dull.