Saturday, May 21, 2011

Read this

Jeff Sypeck at Quid plura, though a great user of electronic materials, expresses his fears and sorrow over the eclipse and devaluation of the codex (the physical book):

...Megan McArdle concludes:
What will happen to the pleasures of pulling a random book from the shelves of a home where you are a weekend guest?
They’ll be replaced by other pleasures, like instant gratification.  And it’s probably more gain than loss.  But I’m just a little bit sad, all the same.
It’s not just about “pleasures.” What about the brainy kid whose parents are either too poor, too disdainful of education, or just too ignorant to give him a Kindle or an iPad? Yes, nearly anyone who wants Internet access can get it, and inquisitive kids are resourceful kids, and the Internet offers brilliant opportunities for intellectual exploration—but there’s no reason to diminish or destroy one convenient, low-tech, time-tested way to feed the brain.

“But you know,” croaks yon straw man, flailing his arms, “it’s expensive to store books in a big building and pay for a staff to maintain them.” Of course it is—but preserving and propagating knowledge is a core function of a college or university. Most American campuses have dozens of costlier programs and facilities that would wither if anyone were challenged to justify their educational merit.

Harvard isn’t trashing a quarter to one-third of the books in its libraries or turning them into glorified Internet cafes. If your college your kid attends is, you may want to ask a dean why they assume their graduates will never compete against kids with big-name degrees. (You might also ask them: “Would you send your child here?”)
* * *
But then why would most people associate libraries with learning anymore? Ads in D.C. Metro stations tout public libraries as places to take yoga classes and hold meetings, and the library system’s website assures the aliterate that a new library “offers more than just books.” (Whew! No one will think you’re a nerd!)

My own neighborhood branch is extremely popular, and the staff is terrific, but when lawyers in million-dollar homes use their library cards to check out government-subsidized Backyardigans DVDs for their kids, we aren’t exactly living the Carnegie dream.
* * *
Maybe there’s hope. In November, I sat in a bayou and beguiled my seven-year-old nephew with the exploits of Beowulf. Last week, by phone, he told me that during a recent visit to the local library, his quest for a sufficiently gory version of Beowulf led him to books about Theseus and the minotaur, the labors of Hercules, and Odin and Loki.

These books may change the course of his life; they may be a fad. Either way, a first-grader in rural Louisiana senses what pundits and college administrators forget: Random access to analog information is a freedom all its own. The Internet is wondrous, and e-readers are great, but if you let technology circumscribe and define your intellectual world, you literally won’t ever know what you’ve missed.
 And there is more here.

 Image:  How long?


  1. I too fear the end of the Codex book as the set-up of a library. I enjoy browsing a bookcase whether it be in a library, my house, a bookstore or a friend's home. At the same time as a youth (1977) I remember Robart's library at U of T only be accessible to me by card catalogue (as a High School student I had limited access to U of T libraries) so the end of browsing the stacks is not a new thing. I also remember being unable to access books that were too far away. Now the internet allows me to read them in a Starbucks.
    Regarding parents who will not get an iPad they won't get a bunch of books and a bookcase in which to display them for their child either. My eldest once ranted to me in the 80s about her friends who did not have a single bookcase in their home. "How can they live?", she cried to me. Us readers forget than many people do not read or buy books. On the other hand I bet those parents now have a computer and high speed internet. The child who lacked books at home or parents with a library card can now surf the net and explore the world. Unfortunately they will play Farmville instead.

  2. I was gifted with a Kindle on my birthday and was delighted to be able to get complete anthologies, it is indeed weighty to bring books to a remote location and due to the Kindle I will be leaving all but one book here.
    There is something more pleasing to the eye of older impressed text on a page than even the laser copies currently produced. I guess the difference of live music to recorded. Paying between $1.55 and $3.99 a pound to ship things makes the Kindle my friend but I will have my Library again when I once again have a home.