The Past Is Still Here Too, and It Too Is Unevenly Distributed


If I want to request a book at the University of Toronto Library, all I have to do is log in to their web site, look up the book, and click “reserve”. Unless the book is in someone’s study carrel. In that case, I have to go to the library in person and fill in a recall slip. Can’t do it through the web or over the phone, even though the information about the book being in a carrel is in the same computer as everything else. According to the library I spoke to, “The computer will not produce a list of books to be retrieved from carrels, closed stacks, or basement. I believe people in [the library] are trying to automate the process but at present they have to use this process.” This isn’t stupidity or sloth: it’s just too low a priority to have been done yet.

The “Y2Gay” post is similar: millions of printed forms, and thousands of databases, assume that marriage involves one male and one female, not two of either. (I have this picture in my head of government IT staff sitting down to a Monday morning planning meeting back in 2006 to hear their boss say, “OK, I know this wasn’t in plan, but…”)

So, the next time you’re wondering why open government/open data is taking so long—why “they” don’t “just” make everything public—spare a thought for the poor, overworked database admin in the basement who has to turn good intentions into SQL.