Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sign of the Apocalypse #12: Libraries without books

Poor Jonathan Swift. You can't have a battle of the books without, well, books.

And as far as I'm concerned, you can't have much of a civilization either. But the post-literary age is at hand, and we are all the more impoverished for it:

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education (see here), the University of Texas -- now home to one of my teachers, Thomas Pangle, who has always fought the good fight for the written word -- has taken the book out of the library:

When students at the University of Texas' flagship campus return in the fall, they will be greeted by a revamped undergraduate library with clusters of computers, a coffee shop, comfortable chairs, and 24-hour technical help. But one traditional resource will be in short supply: books.

Nearly all of the 90,000 volumes contained in the undergraduate library are being carted off this summer to other libraries on the campus to make room for an "information commons" -- a growing trend at colleges and universities around the country.

The goal is to provide students who are accustomed to downloading information in the comfort of their dormitory rooms with a one-stop center where they can collaborate with classmates on multimedia projects, consult with Internet-savvy librarians, and, in some cases, check out laptop computers or leave them to be repaired. About 1,000 books, most of them reference volumes, will remain in the building.

Hey, I like the internet as much as the next guy (or gal). Believe it or not, I'm sitting in front of my computer right now, and, yes, I'm logged onto the information superhighway. But I'm also surrounded by books, and, to me, a world without books is a world I want nothing to do with. No, the University of Texas isn't doing away with books, but this revamping is certainly a denigration of the written word.

Those undergraduate Longhorns may or may not accept the removal of books from their library, but their education will surely suffer and I suspect that in some important ways they'll all turn out to be lesser human beings for this.

Maybe they'll just have to download the Apocalypse when it comes.

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  • They're adding a new library to my old high school...the sixth location it has had since the building's oldest section opened in 1929 or 1930.It's supposed to be a much better library than the one they've got (which when I went there was the cafeteria).But,when I attended a Board of Ed meeting about the addition plans,one improvement they DIDN'T promise,even when asked,was any more space for books...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:02 PM  

  • Entire libraries are going to be placed on line over the next 10 years...
    there was a NY Times article on this at some point, but this i sthe best I can grab right now...

    I am not upset. Some of the technology for e-books is incredible with the ability to make notes in your own handwriting or by voice command even. This level of accessibility will change the book industry for certain and probably for the better. I think the vehicle for reading an electronic book will resemble a paper books, only you can change the content -- if the vehicle for reading resembles a book, the "feel" of reading a book may not change as much as one fears it might.
    While one can say, electronic data is too easy to lose... well, paper burns, gets wet, gets moldy...
    I only hope we start to run our society on something other than unrenewable resources soon.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:06 AM  

  • I guess libraries without books are the wave of the future. But then shouldn't they be called something other than libraries?

    I just think there's something to be said for reading an actual book rather than an e-book. Maybe I'm a reactionary on this?

    To me, information downloads and such things as e-books should be seen as supplementary to, not replacements for, the written word.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 4:00 PM  

  • As someone who spends all day among books... I prefer reading something on paper to reading it on the computer. But, I suspect that eventually, if not already, the technology will exist that allows one to read something elctronically just as if it were printed on paper. Already, with JSTOR, for example, pdf files of many of the major academic journals I use regularly are on my computer screen! I don't even need to leave my apartment to read them. I can search them more easily and find the information I need more quickly. The convenience and accessability quickly made me a fan of JSTOR and a number of other electronic databases of articles that contain material previously only available in print.
    The dissemination of information is changing. We may not like it, but we should be prepared for it and be prepared to have answers and thoughts on the problems/issues/consequences this raises.
    I find the whole thing quite exilhirating.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:19 PM  

  • That's hilarious, flaime. I take it you're not a big Bush booster?

    Rachel, I certainly don't disagree that "[t]he dissemination of information is changing," and I don't want to give the impression that I'm some Luddite (although I really like Neil Postman). There certainly is a need for technology, and "convenience and accessibility" are important -- as is, oh, saving trees. But it seems to me that we're embracing technology too gleefully, without fully understanding the implications. A high-tech library, yes. A library without books, no.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 12:17 PM  

  • A topic I can comment on!! (I work in a library which has a computing commons, not enough room for books, electronic sources, etc.).
    a few comments: e-books right now are very expensive to get by yourself. They are available from libraries, but tend to be computer/science related.
    Another source is copyright free materials (old and tending towards the humanities).
    Electronic sources for newspapers and magazines are my favorites, because they are more accessible (mulitiple users, multiple locations). But print isn't going to disappear anytime soon, as something patrons want, IMHO.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:05 PM  

  • This is some very valueable information, thank you very much.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:21 AM  

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  • By Blogger haydar, at 10:56 AM  

  • When I was in high school, many years ago. Required reading included an interesting book. Fahrenheit 454. I wonder if it will survive the bonfire, or should I just read it online?

    By Anonymous Hammockjames, at 10:52 PM  

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