Posts Tagged ‘Harvard’

The New York Review of Books published a terrific article called The Library in the New Age back in June. I have only just gotten around to reading it. The author, Robert Darnton, is the director of the University Library at Harvard. He writes:

In fact, the strongest argument for the old-fashioned book is its effectiveness for ordinary readers. Thanks to Google, scholars are able to search, navigate, harvest, mine, deep link, and crawl (the terms vary along with the technology) through millions of Web sites and electronic texts. At the same time, anyone in search of a good read can pick up a printed volume and thumb through it at ease, enjoying the magic of words as ink on paper. No computer screen gives satisfaction like the printed page. But the Internet delivers data that can be transformed into a classical codex. It already has made print-on-demand a thriving industry, and it promises to make books available from computers that will operate like ATM machines: log in, order electronically, and out comes a printed and bound volume. Perhaps someday a text on a hand-held screen will please the eye as thoroughly as a page of a codex produced two thousand years ago.  

Elsewhere in the article I was delighted to find that Prof. Darnton loves the smell of old books, too. While this was quite peripheral to his thesis, it struck a chord with me. As a newly minted librarian eons ago, I told a search committee, when asked what had attracted me to librarianship, that I had always loved walking in to used bookstores (we had a fabulous one in St. Petersburg, where I grew up) and later into the stacks of the University Library and breathing in that unmistakable smell of scholarship. Unfortunately, however, library school had taught me that I was detecting the smell of books mouldering and that was not a good thing. As you can imagine, that remark brought the house down.

OK. I know better now and have for years. But, even so, that odor still says *scholarship* to me and still evokes an emotional and positive response from me. If I must be drummed out of ALA, so be it.


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