Information Overload

The whole world knows what happened in Boston this past week. I don't wish to ruminate on the agonies, rather focus on the lessons. As common with tragedies, there are many. One that I came across, that might seem minor in the scheme of human suffering this week, nevertheless is the one I want to focus on because of its tie-in to library science.

There has been much media coverage over the "social media aspect" of the Boston Marathon Bombing and in the horrific misidentification of the suspects in the New York Post but even before the New York Post coverpage there were thousands of people on Reddit and other websites trying to solve the crime like amateur Sherlock Holmes. I do believe their intentions were good but more and more I saw links to the supposed Twitter of the suspects, their Facebook, statements such as "if this is the same so and so then they worked here" or "if this is the same guy he won this award in the year X".

We've already seen the dangers that come from jumping to such conclusions too rapidly. And it reminded me of lesson from my reference classes at Simmons. Mainly, that the first answer you come across isn't necessarily the right one. You have to be sure of your sources. You have to know how to sift through the useless data. You have to be able to not only find the information but validate it.

People ask all the time, in what they think is a funny way, why one has to go to school to be a librarian or why libraries are still useful in the digital age. This is why. Yes, there is information at our fingertips. There is information overload, in fact. There is more to reference than finding the first answer that pops up in Google. You need to know where to start and also where to stop.

As a law librarian I am reminded of this every day. If I did my job the way the Reddit users approached the Boston Marathon "investigation" I could put the lives of innocent people in jeopardy. I need to be sure the person I am looking up, the article I am seeking by a defendant or an expert witness is really their work and not just another John Smith from L.A. Information may be instant but your judgment cannot be.

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