It’s been said that there has been more published than one person can keep track of (let alone read) for a least a few hundred years. So this problem is not really new. But I think we can say that it has become extreme, especially during these times because of the online information explosion.
Many years ago, when I was a freshman in college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I ventured into Memorial Library. On my first visits, I actually didn’t see where the books were kept. The caverous study halls at street level were more than enough to give pause.
It must’ve been during my third venture into the building when I saw how many floors of books there were, when I realized why they were called the stacks. To my recollection, there were nine or ten in the core of the building. From the outside the building appears to be four stories high. I think it was a frightening experience because there were more books than I ever imagined were possible. And it was dimly lit, the ceilings low, and not many people were around. Later on that sensation was magnified because I learned there were also serials, microfilms, rare books and archives in rooms outside the stacks, in dozens of other libraries on campus and other even larger libraries elsewhere.
An important lesson of appreciating information overload is that we, humans, have been creating knowledge, have had a love for knowledge, for a very long time. This take on the volume of knowledge that is available, is clearly a more positive and less threatening one.
I also learned there are so many areas to work in and so many things yet to be done.
You could say that I see information overload as a mixed bag of opportunities and challanges.
Links related to this essay:
- UW Memorial Library’s website
- Images of Memorial Library (thanks to Google)
- The Library of Congress Classification Outline
Further reading, some help on information overload: