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Commentary

Gary Borders: Reference librarians were once the Siri of the day

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In the course of a recent day, I did the following:

• While driving to work, listened to music stored on my phone and played by some miracle on my vehicle’s stereo through Bluetooth technology.

• Bought tickets to an upcoming Red Sox – Rangers game and stored the tickets on my phone. When we get to the ballpark, all I had to do is let the person at the turnstile scan my phone screen.

• Watched video on my laptop of B.B. King playing “The Thrill is Gone” in a tribute after his death.

• Checked email and the latest Red Sox scores on the laptop while covering a board meeting.

• Came home and watched an episode of “Grace and Frankie,” a new series on Netflix, which is streamed to the television wirelessly.

• Practiced playing guitar by fumbling through songs saved on my five-year-old  iPad in an app called OnSong.

• Continued reading a book on the sinking of the Lusitania cruise ship, which spurred the United States to finally enter World War I.

I did not read the book on a Kindle or another electronic device. I held a hardback copy in my hands and flipped actual pages. It was a refreshing change after an entire day spent peering at one electronic screen or another, no sound except for the ceiling fan whirring and Rosie the Wonder Dog softly snoring on the sofa.

I appreciate and enjoy electronic stuff. Growing up, I built crystal radios and eventually worked up to an actual radio, soldering transistors and capacitors per the instructions. I bought my first computer in 1983, and upgraded the next year with the very first model of an Apple Macintosh. It had a nine-inch screen, no hard drive and sold for $2,500. The 27-inch iMac sitting in my study costs a few hundred bucks less than that original model did — with thousands times more computing power.

In, the 1980s, I discovered CompuServe, the first commercial online news service and eagerly subscribed.

This has the potential to change the media landscape, I thought at the time. Some folks will enjoy getting their news 24/7 and not having to wait for the paper to land in the driveway — or be held captive to the nightly network news. I had no idea the revolution would change modern culture so completely. There is now an entire generation of folks under the age of 25 or so who cannot imagine a world without an Internet or cell phones.

When I taught mass communications at Kilgore College last year, I told the class of 30 young people that not long before they were born, if you wanted to find out what year, for example, the Lusitania was sunk, you either had to look it up in an encyclopedia, or go to the library and look it up in a reference book. Or, if you had gotten chummy with a reference librarian — and all savvy journalists knew to do so — then you could call and get the librarian to look up the information. They  looked at me as if I had landed from Mars. The Lusitania sank May 7, 1915, if you’re wondering, torpedoed by a German U-boat.

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