Most librarians spend at least some part of their working lives in places that are to varying degrees, public, and I think it’s no exaggeration to say that faith in public spaces is an implicit part of the profession. In the wake of the events at Virginia Tech yesterday, it’s hard not to see the public spaces in the library and university where I work with a certain degree of weariness.
The public spaces on the internet served as the most important arena for exchange of information on the events yesterday. Almost every news story cited a Facebook or Myspace page or a livejournal entry as a source. The Wikipedia entry and discussion on the event hashed out validity of sources and the semantics of tragedy. And then the jarring cell phone footage on Liveleak was among the realest indicators that this gruesome event had actually happened. The events as documented on the social web became the authority.
MTV was among the first to track web reactions, and the Washington Post has a fairly full blog roundup. Mydeathspace.com, a site that tracks online profiles of the deceased, has links to Facebook and Myspace profiles for many of the victims at Virginia Tech. The New York Times is soliciting comments and photos of the victims. After 9/11, the print edition of the NYT ran photos and profiles of victims, which at that point felt immediate and personal- it’s clear now that rapid coverage is essential, and that anything not interactive would be useless. These past two days have made it ever so much more apparent that our social lives on the web are intractable, crucial, and part of the news and the historical record.