May 24, 2022

Professor Robert Darnton on the Five Myths of the Information Age

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a new column by the Director of the Harvard University Library, Dr. Robert Darnton.

Dr. Darnton has chosen five frequently heard comments and then explains why they’re myths.

Excellent selections that we also hear quite often.

1. “The book is dead.”

2. We have entered the information age.”

3. “All information is now available online.”

4. Libraries are obsolete.”

5. “The future is digital.”

Darnton agree’s (so do we) that the future is digital but he does point out:

“…the prevalence of electronic communication does not mean that printed material will cease to be important. Research in the relatively new discipline of book history has demonstrated that new modes of communication do not displace old ones, at least not in the short run.

Darnton lists several more examples. One he doesn’t mentions was often heard 3o years ago that the VCR would replace the movie theater.

If you’re over 40 years old you’ve experienced these formats ( for the delivery of music

1) Vinyl

2. Reel-to-Reel Tapes
2) 8-Track Tapes
3) Cassette Tapes
and 4) CDs

We will add that we don’t have enough knowledge about the long term viability of both the media (where the data is stored) and the formats that will be used in 10, 20, 30, 40 or more years assuming the data can be used in the first place.

We must be digitizing but we also need to be doing the same amount of work to preserve and make available the printed record for for another 500 years. The gamble that we’re taking by digitizing and not making planning for, funding, and having professionals to do it one not worth taking.

Finally, we also need to make sure that born-digital materials continue to be available long into the future. This might be the largest challenge of them all since as we mentioned a moment ago, we have no idea if the formats and delivery tools of today will be viable in 10, 20, 50, etc. years.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.