Coinciding with the 60th anniversary of Vannevar Bush’s article As We May Think, Microsoft Research has put out an RFP the new Digital Memories (Memex) program:

the Digital Memories (Memex) research kit gives a jump-start to perform research around storing all of an individual’s lifetime information, novel capture methods (for example, Bush’s head-worn stereo camera), linking of information, and use of meta-data. … We invite all proposals that deal with the fundamental aspects of the Digital Memories (Memex) research kit, including capture, annotation, links between items, and extensive use of metadata. The context should be personal lifetime storage, but other cases will be considered if the potential cross-over technology is compelling enough.

Gary & I just submitted a paper in which we discuss ways in which digital libraries can and cannot fulfill the traditional roles of library-as-place. In it, we briefly discuss personal information spaces:

What personal information spaces to date lack, which traditional libraries possess, are human-intermediated services: that is, librarians. …the functionality of human intermediation may yet be implemented in personal information spaces, though whether this will entail the specific user providing some form of mediation to herself displaced in space and/or time, or automating currently manual services, or development of software agents, or some other solution, remains to be seen.

It’s gratifying to see a topic that one has written about so recently be vindicated by the creation of an entire grant funding stream.

I suspect Microsoft is not overly concerned with this issue, but for me, one of the most interesting questions is: to what extent is a personal information space a (digital) library, or not? In other words, what principles from librarianship can be ported over to that environment? Or, as Jared Diamond puts it, which core values are compatible & which have to be given up?

The one that we point out as being noticeably absent thus far is reference service. How would reference be provided in a personal information space anyway? The idea of the user providing service to herself at a remove in time was mine; I like the proactive-ness of it, & the dissociative-ness of it is kind of amusing. But what would that be like, anyway? How do you respond to your own information needs before you even have them? I suppose that’s the origin of the idea of classification. And searching. And indirect reference. So, how do you provide indirect reference to yourself?