Spirit Guides of Cyberspace

Vickie L. Kline Head of Technical Services, Schmidt Library, York College of Pennsylvania From my small viewport into the Internet, I curiously watch the evolution of cyberspace. With each visit, I see new structures rising in the mist--each one a vision of what a virtual library could be. Each vision starts with the dream of offering as much information as possible in electronic form, but from there, execution runs wild. I see imagination as vibrant as that shown by the architects of Victorian homes. These prototypes of the future fill me with joy and excitement. I want to see the future. I don't want to wait to see what wonders lie ahead.

But if you were to ask me about the future of librarians, the visionary glow in my eyes would be replaced by uncertainty and apprehension. From this exact moment in time, a multitude of possible futures radiate outward like strands in a spider's web. There are numerous strands and it is difficult to see where they might end. It is also difficult to guess which strands will bear the weight of our profession.

Some say that librarians will become extinct. Our remains will be left behind with accession books and defunct card catalogs. Others envision us among the information disabled. They think that, crippled by our past, we will only offer access and assistance for the types of electronic resources that we can understand with our tunnel vision. Yet others say that we will become an invisible part of the net, designing new information sources and converting data. This is a worthy endeavor, but it seems sterile and devoid of human contact.

Fortunately, there are those who still believe we will remain a vital part of the information ecosystem for one simple reason. We are, and always will be, teachers. I believe this vision to be true, but am under no illusion that the transition to the future will be anything but difficult, unsettling, and at times frightening. I have not words of wisdom for those of us making the transition, but I can offer a story, a futuristic fantasy spun from one strand in the web:

Spirit Guides of Cyberspace

Things have changed much since I chose the path of a librarian. To today's children, virtual reality and virtual libraries are as commonplace as the clothes they wear. Physical libraries do still exist, but their use has changed. Fewer and fewer physical items are added. Information is scanned and sent over the net. Requests for physical loan of books still come electronically, but librarians in these facilities usually only see people on tour days. This will date me, but it reminds me of how we used to tour the post office to see how paper mail was processed.

I actually work as a cyberspace guide these days. Although virtual reality and virtual libraries are readily available and easy to use, we've discovered that people still have difficulty deciding which paths to choose, and then knowing what they have and haven't found. Our systems are good, but we haven't quite reached a point where they can teach critical thinking. First lessons with a cyberspace guide have become a new rite of passage these days. I equate it with the Native American tradition of walking with a spirit guide. For the first lesson, a child usually comes to my office. I show them how the visors can be used with virtual vision, real vision, or both simultaneously. I show them uses of gloves and suits, and how to pull up virtual keyboards, access panels, and display screens. I also show them how they can move around in cyberspace using motion or by remaining in the comfort of their favorite chair.

For a first tour of cyberspace, I take them to fun places. The cyberzoo and the ocean reef are favorite starting points. As we walk among the animals or dive into the fish, I teach them how to retrieve information about what they are seeing. I introduce them to the spirit guides in these areas and explain how to contact them. They usually find it comforting to have a person they know beside them for their first encounter with a virtual representation of a stranger on the net.

After the first few sessions, they stay home and I meet them in cyberspace at the appointed time. After a while they will begin traveling by themselves or with friends. I never exactly say good bye. I see most former students on the net now and again--even once they've reached adulthood. Sometimes we travel the paths together as friends or colleagues. Sometimes they will even reappear without warning when they find an unknown path that they must travel. It comforts me to know they still remember their initial journeys in cyberspace. As for being their first spirit guide, the honor is mine.

Last Modified: