Monday, December 01, 2008

Where Will We Keep the Knowledge?

Adam O'Riordan gets shot down in flames on the Guardian books blog for suggesting that the digitization of our libraries (he cites the replacement of Whitechapel Library with the Whitechapel Idea Store) may be some force for good.

Well, I was sitting in the cafe late afternoon the other day and a friend came in and told me, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, that she had only just come out, she had been at the computer all day preparing something for her students, and what she had been doing specifically was researching the history of religion in Britain. She proceeded to tell me breathlessly all about that history (much of which was new to her), and what shot through my mind as she did was the memory - not all that old a memory - of getting on the bus into Manchester and spending a whole morning in central library and waiting while they got books up from the stacks just to verify a small point in a play I was writing. And I thought, My god, isn't the internet wonderful? And: My god, hasn't the world changed?

And my friend came to the end of her account and paused, and then said to me: 'Isn't the internet wonderful? And hasn't the world changed?'

It's true, though, that the source of much of our digitized knowledge is physical books. Does it matter, therefore, that libraries are dispensing with them while installing the computers which anyway most people have at home...? And what does this mean for the future form of our knowledge repositories (our idea stores)?

3 comments:

Maxwell's short stories said...

I think it is difficult for people to come to terms with the fact that accessing information from digitised books is just as valid an experience as going to a traditional library.

I look forward to a time hopefully within the decade where we can access all of this valuable and limitless information easily.

A few weeks ago I saw a book I wanted that was out of print, looked into it second hand and it was over £200 - a little out of my price range. As it was published in the US in the 30's it was not at my local branch library so until it is digitised I am resigned to being unable to read it.

How much knowledge is waiting to be rediscovered once it is digitised I wonder?

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yup: the democratization of knowledge: how can we not look forward to it? (as long as we find some way of allowing writers to make a living meanwhile...)

Maxwell's short stories said...

That's the trick isn't it? I am an enormous fan of digital and give a massive amount of my stories and content away via the web but I am also an anormous fan of print...

I feel that it will be very much like vinyl versus CD versus digital. If the old way is worth anything it will find its own level. But it won't die :)