Thursday, November 12, 2009

Update on the "bookless library"

Two items from today's news.

1. From The Chronicle (behind the subscription wall--sorry) (now free, as JHoward notes in the comments; thanks, Chronicle!):
In Face of Professors' 'Fury,' Syracuse U. Library Will Keep Books on Shelves
By Jennifer Howard
A fight between humanities scholars and the library at Syracuse University over plans to send books to a remote storage facility has reached a temporary truce, with both sides agreeing to consider alternative solutions. The conflict began several weeks ago when the library announced it wanted to free up shelf space and save money by sending some of its print collection to a facility in Patterson, N.Y.
. . .
The reaction was so fierce because of the high value humanities researchers still place on hands-on browsing, Mr. Watts said. "The big issue in the letters and among humanists generally is the importance of being able to browse collections and not have them in a remote location," he said. Recent library renovations to create more computer and work space have caused books to be moved around, according to Mr. Watts, and "part of the fury has been fueled by what looks like the emptying of shelves."
. . .
[L]ast night, more than 200 students and faculty members attended a meeting of the University Senate to hash out the library situation, according to the university's student newspaper, The Daily Orange.

The senate meeting "was the most longest and most vocal in years," Suzanne E. Thorin, the university's dean of libraries, told The Chronicle. "It means there's a lot of burning passion on this." Humanities faculty members have made it clear they consider the library their "central laboratory," she said.
Yes, exactly: a "central laboratory." I don't have anything to add to this except to hope that the 200+ people who turned out have convinced Dean Thorin that (1) we're not just random kooks who have an unhealthy attachment to books and that (2) print culture isn't dead yet.

2. About print culture: over at Perplexed with Narrow Passages, Christopher Vilmar has a good post about Robert Darnton's thoughts on e-books versus printed books. A few excerpts:
  • The book is not dead.
  • As new electronic devices arrive on the market, we think we have been precipitated into a new era. We tout “the Information Age” as if information did not exist in the past.
  • Whatever the future may be, it will be digital.
  • Unless the vexatious problem of digital preservation is solved, all texts “born digital” belong to an endangered species. The obsession with developing new media has inhibited efforts to preserve the old.

  • Yes, yes, yes, and yes. "Digital" is the future, but the future isn't here yet. We need both print and digital media right now. I'm hoping that conversations like the ones linked to here will increase our understanding. Didn't we learn anything from deconstruction? Both/and, not either/or.


    Christopher Vilmar said...

    The Syracuse dustup isn't surprising: they're heavily invested in distance learning, which is going to have an institutional impact, no?

    Anonymous said...

    Print is backup. You have to have backups. People gotta get this idea, and especially now we've reached the point where, if you had, I don't know, a text file written on a Commodore 64 on a 5.25in floppy and a print-out of same file it would be massively easier and quicker to digitise the print-out for the web, it shouldn't be hard to get that print is possibly the best backup of all.

    JHoward said...

    Hi: Thanks very much for noting the story. FYI, I think our link is now free:

    undine said...

    Christopher Vilmar, I hadn't thought of that as a reason, but it makes sense.

    tenthmedieval, anything that needs electricity can't be primary. Print is needed. I do have the kinds of texts you're talking about, and you're absolutely right that print would be the best backup.

    JHoward, welcome! Thanks for letting me know that it's now free, and thanks especially for covering the issue.

    Christopher Vilmar said...

    I dunno if it's causative, but it probably is at least a factor.