Fiat Lux: A Yahoo with Values and a Brain

Fiat Lux: A Yahoo with Values and a Brain.

“This project is called Fiat Lux, and it addresses what is, ironically, the biggest problem on the Internet: the difficulty in reliably finding significant, objective, and relevant information. Basically, Fiat Lux is a not-for-profit cooperative founded by the librarians who manage important—though small and grossly underfunded—Internet finding aids (a Cybrarian Cartel, if you will). Our idea is that there is strength through cooperation, collaboration, and resource-sharing—an idea many of you involved in building library systems and consortia can connect with.

You are probably familiar with the tools, if not the people connected with them: Internet Public Library; Michigan Electronic Library; BUBL, from Great Britain; Toronto Virtual Reference Library; Infomine, from University of California/Riverside; the now-defunct Internet Signpost; and, the California brainchild of Carole Leita that developed into the state-funded Web portal I now manage.

In the short run, we see ourselves sharing Internet records, collaborating on funding requests, and informally improving our respective platforms through mutual activities. In the long run—which in Internet time is six months to a year—some of us have brainstormed about building one wonderful Internet resource, one well-known place we can direct our users, a site that is trustworthy and high-quality and dedicated to the public good: a Yahoo with values and a brain.

Fiat Lux is a smart idea whose time came, went, and came around again; we can’t let the brass ring go by this time. Years ago, a couple of guys from Stanford did what many librarians said could not be done: They took a reasonably decent stab at organizing the Internet, creating a Web portal, Yahoo, that looked and felt like a searchable catalog of Internet sites—albeit one clogged with pop-up ads, compromised by paid placement, and cluttered with irrelevant features.

Reading Yahoo’s official history, you would think David Filo and Jerry Yang invented the idea of a categorized Web resource. Let’s set the record straight: Librarians initiated several of the first known services, such as the Michigan Electronic Library (still alive today, thank you very much), and the beloved Infoslug service, maintained by Steve Watkins. These and similar resources were the talk of the tiny Internet community long before those two Stanford students “started their guide in a campus trailer” in 1994, as the Yahoo company history reports it.

Why wasn’t it us? What other profession has the values and the information know-how to be the big cheese when it comes to organizing the Internet? In a world of paid placement, relevance-for-sale, and questionable motives, the idea of a public-domain, objective, service-oriented Web portal has for some time been in the back of every thinking librarian’s head.

I don’t think we missed the brass ring because we lacked skill or acumen; I think it was that we just didn’t have the right confluence of time, people, or place. (Or perhaps we just needed better lawyers.)….

We librarians clearly have a clue about organizing the Internet…. What we lacked in glitzy IPOs complete with ice carvings at the company party was a total devotion to our mission: public service. As Ranganathan might have put it, Internet sites are for use….

Meanwhile, the Fiat Lux gang represents a “best of the Internet” collection of over 110,000 records, the participation of 280 skilled librarians and information professionals, a cumulative 44 years of service provision and experience, and support of close to 9 million searches from the learning community annually….

Watch us closely—Fiat Lux plans to light up the world.” [American Libraries, thanks to Laura for the link!]

I know I'm quoting too much from this article, but it's too exciting not to! This is one piece of what I've been advocating for librarians to do, so I'll be watching it closely! [The Shifted Librarian]

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