Thoughts on Vannevar Bush Essay

“Futurist” is an apt descriptor for Bush, and his essay provides scenarios for the storage, maintenance and access of information that are quite similar to what we face today in the digital landscape.

I think Bush was trying to make sense of an explosion of knowledge much like information professionals are trying to do today in the digital world. “One needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it,” he writes. In the digital environment, consulting records is not only about access but organization (metadata, FRBR, etc.).

Many phrases that Bush uses make me think of the vast (infinite?) amount of information available on the Web. For example, Bush writes, “A record if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted.” Whether it is the scientific, academic or cultural record, this statement relates to the modern field of digital librarianship. For digital records to be: 1) “continuously extended” – digital records must be converted and stored to contemporary formats; 2) “stored” – digital preservation principles are critical to expanding the life of the record; and 3) “consulted” – the digital record must be accessible.

In many ways, our computers and tablets and smart phones function as memex machines, or at least come pretty close. Transpose microfilm with the ability to create, store and transfer information digitally and we are able to achieve some of what Bush hoped for: “provision for the consultation of the record by the usual scheme of indexing” could be keyword or subject searching today; “Any given book of his library can thus be called up and consulted…” is similar to iBooks or Overdrive applications. 

In his description of “building a trail” it appears that Bush was writing about tagging and folksonomies long before they became buzzwords, as he envisioned joining items together to form a new book or new trails of information that could saved, revisited, and shared for future use.




One response to “Thoughts on Vannevar Bush Essay

  1. Your phrase of “digital records must be converted and stored to contemporary formats” let me think about the possible necessity of multiple formats because nowadays people are used to receiving information through different channels such as PC, smart phone, etc. Thanks.

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