James Kinzer once wrote, “When a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest.” With that in mind, things got off to an ‘interesting’ start on Sunday morning at the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) annual conference in San Antonio, TX, with a keynote address by Andrew Keen, internet entrepreneur and the author of Digital Vertigo and Cult of the Amateur.

Keen’s keynote exposed the challenges, risks and opportunities of Web 2.0, a place where all of us have instant access to production, publishing and promotional tools that provide an outlet for our creative output – whether or not this output has any true value. It also prompted a lively debate on Twitter that challenged how his view of a new information meritocracy applies to law librarianship.

Keen pointed to broader cultural  forces driven by Web 2.0 and social media that celebrate digital narcissism over expertise and authority. And Keen sees transformational shifts ahead (“Institutions of the old world probably won’t survive.”), where accepted standards of knowledge, quality and value are redefined. Keen’s future also is marked by a growing polarization that pits insight and authority against a growing corpus of generally unreliable open Web data sources. “Average is over,” he says, adding that the idealism of “the information wants to be free” is fast giving way to the practical reality that “the information is incredibly unreliable.”

But he also sees opportunities for librarians. Keen challenged law librarians to redefine their boundaries, building upon their domain expertise and curatorial skills to enable a deeper understanding of the volumes of uncurated content that their clients are confronted with every day. Librarians can be enablers, not gatekeepers, Keen says, helping to manage an emerging ecosystem of smart machines (that is, any device with a chip that can produce or capture data) and ultimately helping extract new insights from the vast quantities of data being produced today.

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