Libraries are powerful entities, and mysterious in some ways. Sometimes, encountering books in a library, and fully confronting the force of their content, is, I think, an activity perhaps as much a rite of passage as anything in religion or sport. I thought Alberto Manguel’s book The Library at Night captured the sense of that mysterious power that libraries have not only over our imaginations but also in our imaginations with the transformative power of words.
As much as I have valued the Internet over the years in helping solve the many problems of search and access in libraries, there does seem to be a need from time to time to put the Internet in perspective, and to not forget what the library should truly focus on– providing the means to engage minds fully, in all the ways that make a difference. The following quote from The Library of Night I think captures that sentiment:
The celebrated American comic-strip artist Will Eisner explained that, when he first discovered this electronic medium, he believed it to be an almost magical source of new artistic inventions, but that of late it had become “merely a supermarket to which consumers come to look for the cheapest possible product.This sleight of hand is achieved, every time a reader locks onto the Web, by stressing velocity over reflection and brevity over complexity, preferring snippets of news and bytes of facts over lengthy discussions and elaborate dossiers, and by diluting informed opinion with reams of inane babble, ineffectual advice, inaccurate facts and trivial information, made attractive with brand names and manipulated statistics.