Monday, May 16, 2005

Publishing is in big trouble

College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age

Students attending the University of Texas at Austin will find something missing from the undergraduate library this fall.


By mid-July, the university says, almost all of the library's 90,000 volumes will be dispersed to other university collections to clear space for a 24-hour electronic information commons, a fast-spreading phenomenon that is transforming research and study on campuses around the country.

Uggh. A building without books is no longer a library. Of course libraries should have computer labs, but taking away more and more shelf space reaches a ridiculous conclusion when all of the books have been replaced with computer hardware.
"The library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared. . . . It's having a conversation rather than homing in on the book."

What a crock of bullshit. I've never had a conversation or "shared an idea" at any library ever.

Librarians know that books will never be replaced completely by anything intangible, but they know that scholars and readers are demanding more and more electronic "products". I mean, is this what Jorge Luis Borges had in mind when he said, "I have always imagined paradise as some kind of library / 24-hour electronic information commons."

I am pretty firmly in the camp of Nicholson Baker, who created such horrible controversy when he claimed that the primary duty of a library is to house and preserve books and papers. In Double Fold, Baker exposes the underbelly of the library world, wherein preservation requires destruction and "shelf space" is too finite. I sincerely believe that problems arise when books are treated as "content" instead of books. Of course the internet has revolutionized "access to content", but it does not compare with the thrill of searching for and eventually finding a book on a shelf.

I want new books to be published in print form forever and I want larger and larger stacks of them, gigantic, cavernous, luxurious buildings where there is nothing to do except browse, sit, and read.


MBrawner said...

A-fucking-*men*, brother.

hillary said...

I'm closer to your side (having a. way too many books and b. a proclivity to smell them), but online content is nice, especially when you're forced into using it because the periodical you want has vanished into the repository. All I want is some way to access it.

ken said...

Right on. The whole point of having content online is to allow me to access it from my bedroom while in my underwear.

mattbucher said...

Or, as Hillary noted, at your local barbecue joint:

Seriously, I'm all for having everything ever printed available online, but I still want it printed. It's so much cooler to read the newsprint of the NY Times at an outdoor cafe than to do so on your laptop.

ken said...

Agree, I meant that there should be both. They shouldn't be tearing down bookshelves to make room for electronic commonses. The idea is oxymoronic, or maybe just moronic.

hillary said...

Okay, newsprint is a bad example. I kind of hate newsprint. The noise it makes, the way it takes the oil of your fingers so they feel really dry, the hassles involved in folding and unfolding, and, of course, the staining. Newsprint should die. All other forms of print are wonderful, including on Pringles.

George Carr said...

The problem is with 'archiving,' when even after you've identified that what you're looking for is not digitized somewhere, then everyone has to hunt around to find an old paper copy. And when fewer and fewer repositories are holding the paper copies, that can get obnoxious. I have less of a problem with digitizing than Matt, but I refuse to let stuff to way out of print, to where you can't even get it if you want it.