HTML, Labyrinths, and Armchairs
Monday, August 13th, 2012
I think I got 10,000 hours of library-wandering under my belt by 8th grade. I achieved most of this in the New City Library decades before it was to have a digitized catalog, let alone a twitter feed. Among my favorite sections in that air-conditioned temple of intellectual meandering (in my memories, I’m always there in the summer for some reason) was the reference section.
The allure was terrific – atlases, encyclopedias, guides, almanacs; and you could take none of it home with you. Instead, there was an array of vast gleaming tables upon which to spread one’s bounty. Of course, the reference librarian was an ever-present guide and source of new directions of research. It was here that you could cross-reference for hours, tracking multiple lines of inquiry, formulating some big picture or another about a chosen topic. I propose these Hours of Tracking Multiple Lines of inquiry as the original HTML – the behavioral bedrock that made HyperText Markup Language such a hit.
The internet serves as the ultimate reference library – and you can take it home with you. It seems the new HTML has made reference library users of us all. But what of the librarians? We lose some important
things- curation, authority, quality – without their guidance. We are in the labyrinth without string. A solution, short of cohabiting with a librarian, lies in software development. In the tablet world, there is a nascent collection of reference works, or ‘Armchair Apps’ – apps that create interactive contexts that provide open-ended, non-linear, multifarious exploration of a topic. Armchair apps like Exprima’s Anatomy & Physiology Revealed and Touch Press’ Shakespeare’s Sonnets are sprawling walled gardens – curated but endlessly explorable.
With a good armchair app, we can replicate that reference library afternoon anywhere anytime. And no need for string.