The closing keynote speech was given by Alberto Manguel. I had read his book The Library at Night and commented on it in my blog in an earlier posting.
The CBC web site has an excellent article on his life and book The Library at Night at http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/manguel.html.
Alberto Manguel spoke of the one book that has affected him the most in his life and that is The Adventures of Pinocchio, the original story by the Italian author Carlo Collodi. The original story is filled with hard life lessons and it is much darker than the Disney version. As a child, Manguel recognized The Adventures of Pinocchio as simply a book, and not specifically a children’s book. He had read it several times as he grew older, and has grown to appreciate the deeper wisdom in the book. When Collodi wrote The Adventures of Pinocchio in the nineteenth century, the idea of children’s literature was just starting to form and so in many respects Collodi was a pioneer.
At its heart, The Adventures of Pinocchio is about education and the power of books. The battle for literacy is also a battle against stupidity. We all need to learn that there are different realms of words, and that some realms are ambiguous. We need to recognize that we are born as intelligent creatures, and that we run the risk of turning into deaf and blind consumers. Set against today’s consumer society are the library and the book. As symbols, when the library and the book are displaced then the importance of the intellectual act diminishes in the eyes of society which sees only value in ongoing raw consumption. In Collodi’s book, the mistakes Pinocchio makes are the same mistakes that modern people make in throwing away books and education for short term promises– promises that turn out to be scams.
Alberto Manguel spoke eloquently about the value of libraries. Libraries are about preserving society and about criticizing society. There is an ordered side to libraries and an anarchist side. A library is a place in which we learn how to think.
Manguel picked up on a rising criticism of reading on a computer– we tend to find ourselves reading snippets online, instead of disciplining ourselves to work through a book. Many people have forgotten how to read a book, and maybe as a society we run risks when too many have lost this skill. In libraries, a lot of the recent rise in circulation is due to the checking out of audio-visual material. While much recent discussion in the library world has been about delivering to users what they want, we also need to think about what they need. Libraries are not candy stores. Libraries provide what people don’t yet know they want. Manguel is not opposed to electronic media, but he insisted we need to ask the question as to what we are using this instrument for.
Reading, and by extension libraries and books, should not be considered simply in financial terms. Reading is a gratuitous activity. Reading is similar to the necessity for children to play. We need to protect this activity.
Manguel concluded by emphasizing the importance of information literacy. When we are surrounded by propaganda it is often hard to tell when we are in it. Many who communicate with us, such as those in power, treat us as if the truth is self-evident and that it is wrong to question. In Collodi’s first version of The Adventures of Pinocchio, Pinocchio dies a gruesome death because of his mistakes and his selfishness. Pinocchio is often sidetracked from books and learning by tricksters and hoodlums. In a later, more upbeat version, the blue fairy ends up turning him into a real boy, who acquires a deeper understanding of himself.