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D-Lib Magazine
November 2003

Volume 9 Number 11

ISSN 1082-9873

Even More Challenging Times

In November 2001, I wrote an editorial1 about the challenges of dealing with the increased amount of information flow in light of concerns such as privacy, competitive intelligence, the digital divide, globalization and cultural identity. I wrote, "These are challenging times. We live in a world in which information is a more critical asset than ever before and in which information systems are key to economic growth and productivity, public safety and the waging of war." Two years later, we find ourselves in even more challenging times.

For one thing, we have more information with which to deal. Peter Lyman and Hal Varian have been tracking the increase in the amount of information, issuing reports in 2000 and in 2003. In How Much Information? 20032, they report on the increase over the past three years in the amount of information flow.

A few highlights from the executive summary to the 2003 report:

  • The Internet is both the newest and the fastest growing medium of all time.
  • The size of the Internet3 totaled 532,897 terabytes in 2002.
  • The volume of information on the public Web alone tripled between the time the 2000 report and the 2003 report were written.
  • Information flows through electronic channels4 contained almost 18 exabytes5 of new information in 2003 as compared to 2000.

Secondly, many of the problems related to information flow and management, including privacy, intellectual property, national security, the digital divide, and globalization and cultural identity, appear to have worsened, or at least have become more complex, in the intervening years. The raw volume, ease of movement, and mutability of digital information have become both a major challenge and a major opportunity in the conduct of human affairs.

The digital library community, much like the traditional library community of the past, has an important role to play in the organization and availability of digital information. This role does not include the analysis of this mountain of information and development of public and private policy based on that analysis. That difficult job lies elsewhere, and as individuals it is our responsibility to hold those people and institutions to their tasks. But as a community we have a responsibility to continue to evolve technologies and institutional structures to organize sensibly and make available increasingly vast amounts of information. Challenging indeed, and it makes me wonder what the next two years will bring.

Bonita Wilson

[1] Wilson, Bonita, Editorial: "Challenging Times," D-Lib Magazine, 7(11), November 2001. Available at <>.

[2] Lyman, Peter and Hal R. Varian, How Much Information? 2003, Regents of the University of California, October 27, 2003. Available at <>.

[3] The figure 532,897 terabytes includes the surface Web, deep Web, email (originals) and instant messaging.

[4] Electronic channels include telephone, radio, TV and the Internet.

[5] One exabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes or 1018 bytes, or as derived from the Lyman and Varian report, one exabyte of information would be equivalent to the amount of information contained in 100,000 libraries the size of the U.S. Library of Congress.

Copyright© 2003 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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DOI: 10.1045/november2003-editorial