by Michael D. McDonald, Dr. P.H.
It can be argued that libraries have their origins in the swarm behavior of individuals and groups acquiring and sharing cultural artefacts (e.g., pictographs, books) as the fundamental repositories of knowledge within a community and the broader society. Librarians have played a key role in the founding and differentiation of America at its origins. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, for example, played key roles in deepening and broadening the tradition of knowledge sharing within the early United States.
Thomas Jefferson saw public education and acquisition of knowledge as one of the key cornerstones of a free republic. As a result, he founded the University of Virginia and the Library of Congress with the sharing of his own extensive library. Ben Franklin, in holding a similar ideal for knowledge sharing, formed the first social libraries in the late 1700s in Philadelphia, which could be described as perhaps the first public libraries in the United States.
Fast forward — the United States, in the early 21st century, is a global society with its knowledge-based transactions touching billions of lives a day. Knowledge sharing is now more a phenomenon of the world wide web and social media than of static collections of books alone. As a result, library science is fusing with knowledge science, the cognitive sciences, and the sciences of complexity, which now have less to do with human/book interactions than human/information system interactions. As a result, librarians are not only influencing the interactions between individuals and the knowledge source, but also how the knowledge of populations shapes collective intelligence and its impact on individual behaviors, and collective behavior.
Like the biologist of the 21st century, who must think not only of germs, plants, and animals but also about DNA and genes, the librarian of the 21st century must also now consider memes and memeplexes — the fundamental artefacts of science and culture and how they replicate and inform behavior, social process, and social structure. In so doing, the 21st century librarian, thinking back from the ultimate impact of their craft, has enormous power in shaping the trajectory of individuals and populations influenced by the knowledge management systems librarians architect and manage. In a world of human populations rapidly exceeding the carrying capacity of their ecosystems globally leading to food insecurity, energy crisis, water crisis, social conflict, and war, the librarian’s effective shaping of knowledge management systems becomes mission critical.
Librarians in this context have enormous power in guiding the great transformation of social ecologies in the U.S. and around the world toward resilience and sustainability. In this context, the work of librarians makes a strategic difference in humanity’s epic struggle between mass collapses of populations and humanity’s abilities to thrive under rapidly changing conditions. It is no longer just the shaping of knowledge that the 21st century librarian must attend to, but the kindling of wisdom to anticipate changing conditions, collectively transforming wise decisions into unity of effort across large populations — to collaboratively shape and live within resilient and sustainable social ecologies compatible with healthy biomes; this is the power and the craft of librarians today facing the strategic challenges of their communities, the United States, and the future of our collective humanity globally.
Dr. Michael D. McDonald is director of the National Sustainable Security Infrastructure Initiative and the chief architect of the U.S. Resilience System. Dr. McDonald has led several large PanFlu exercises and provided testimony to the Congressional Budget Office on key weaknesses of current U.S. pandemic flu policy. He has been an early voice for global, real-time, transparent biosurveillance systems and building infrastructures supporting situational awareness and verifiable resilience at the household, neighborhood and community levels. Dr. McDonald chaired the Genomics and Bioinformatics working group and was co-founder of the Bioterrorism working group of IEEE. Dr. McDonald does research in memetics and biosecurity in association with several universities and government agencies and has been co-principal investigator with the Centers for Disease Control on the Psychosocial Dimensions of BioSecurity Initiative. He is Principal Investigator on the Global Resilience System testbed and is currently the President and CEO of Global Health Initiatives, Inc. He is deeply involved in the prevention and management of large-scale social crises, such as through his work in Haiti, Japan, Vietnam, and the United States.
On October 20, Dr. Michael D. McDonald will engage a discourse on the social media, intelligent social networks, information sharing environments, and Resilience Systems, as some of the fundamental tools of strategically oriented librarians embracing the full power and responsibilities of the professions. You may join this in person or via simulcast.