Saturday, May 14, 2005

On the Definition of a Library

The New York Times reports that a small library on the University of Texas-Austin campus is replacing their books with a computer system that holds (it's hard not to employ material words!) digital-copies of the texts in its memory. A student expressed his surprise and offered a definition of what a library is:
"Well, this is a library - it's supposed to have books in it," said Jessica Zaharias, a senior in business management. "You can't really replace books. There's plenty of libraries where they have study rooms. This is a nice place for students to come to. It's central in campus."
I think the first part of her definition is pretty good: a library is a place where books are stored. The second part, however, makes it sound like a library is a destination for socializing and getting together. Certainly, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, but, given the context, I would emphasize the repository sense of the library. If not, a person might begin to sound like this:
"The library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared," said Geneva Henry, executive director of the digital library initiative at Rice University in Houston, where anyone can access and augment course materials in a program called Connexions. "It's having a conversation rather than homing in on the book."
Given this definition, why, a coffee-shop could be called a library, since folks meet there for conversations. I suppose I don't really care all that much, though. In the end, I bet it would be nice to read a library book at three-in-the-Minnesota-morning without battling the cold.

But, if this is one of those battles against progress, then I think the conservative arguers should stick to the ideal of a library as a place where books are materially stored. If they must, perhaps they can cautiously point-out that the physical presence of texts creates an atmosphere for thoughtful conversation and debate, but not more than that. Otherwise, they might be left with computer tables everywhere. And I know that they would not want anyone to gather in a place flooded by the harsh glow of flourescent-lamp and LCD light.


Post a Comment

<< Home