I grew up in Queens and fondly remember what I recall as the Main
Branch of the Queensboro Public Library somewhere in Jamaica. I
remember spending hours at microfilm readers there.
I understand your rant and now that I'm living in the small town of
Aurora, Ontario, Canada (my wife's home town and officially part of
the Greater Toronto Area) we do make use of the Aurora Public Library
which was recently enlarged. My boys and wife go there regularly for
help with school projects, despite a thousand-plus-volume library
here at home, more if you count LPs, CDs, and tapes.
I also fondly remember many trips to the Donnell Library branch of
the New York Public Library, just across 53rd Street from the church
I would attend in my last years in New York City. Donnell's LP
circulating collection help introduce me to a wide variety of
Broadway shows which I never could have afforded to buy on LP at that
time. I did end up buying many of those in LP and CD form as my
income increased over the years.
I also made use of the Library at Lincoln Center a few times.
Anyway, I hope that Libraries will be around. They offer a great
level playing field so that anyone, independent of ability to pay,
has access to great ideas. Anyone who would attempt to monetize (oh
how I hate that word--to me it symbolizes much of what is wrong with
our society today) library access would be flying in the face of that
goal. After all, wasn't it Andrew Carnegie who gave grants for
libraries in smaller towns all across the U.S.A?
I do think that Google's approach may be interesting as an index and
may actually help libraries gain more patrons.
On the other hand, I applaud what David Seubert and his colleagues at
UCSB have done with their cylinder collection. This becomes a library
that transcends the brick and mortar (well, in Southern California
they don't use bricks without serious reinforcement, but you know
what I mean) approach. It takes the brick-and-mortar edifice that is
required for the library to house and protect the artifacts and
extends it and permits the library to offer its unique collection to
In addition, the Web portal was really a byproduct of the real work
of the cylinder digitization project, and that was to preserve the
cylinders. While the cylinders themselves are a unique archive, they
are fragile and probably deteriorating, although the timeframe of the
deterioration may be longer than other media.
Also, preservation by geographic separation is a crucial concept,
brought home to us many times. As a former resident (21 years) of
Southern California, I am aware of the risks posed by fires, floods,
and earthquakes. It is a GOOD IDEA to have geographic separation in
all collections and it is an even BETTER IDEA in California.
While the digital copy of the cylinders may not be the original
artifact, the interest in the artifact is a much narrower interest
than the content of the artifact. We have proven this time and again
with paper-back books, microfilm, and now digitization. Certainly,
owning a Gutenberg Bible is far different from reading a paper back
or faux leather low-cost Bible...or even keeping one in your vest
pocket (but no one wears vests anymore). Not everyone has to have
access to the original Gutenberg Bible.
One interesting perspective of this value is that SMPTE in working up
definitions for the new digital world created the word "essence" to
mean the basic picture and sound information and "metadata" to
describe all the ancillary data. The digitization project captures
the essence of the cylinders and makes them available to all, in an
egalitarian manner to a great degree. The only price of admission is
a computer connection, and that can often be obtained gratis at the
local public library. That aspect of the usage of this could be
considered an updated inter-library loan model.
I don't think that the "replacement" concept as in replacing horse
and buggies with automobiles is valid for traditional libraries being
replaced by computer networks. We still need the repositories for
traditional the artifacts. What we might see are local libraries with
limited and narrow collections (see below about "Rego Park") being
replaced. Tom's point about the Bedford Hills Public Library was, I
think, that it contained unique collections of artifacts that were
not replicated elsewhere. Whether it be the local library, historical
society, and/or museum that keeps these artifacts is immaterial. Here
in Aurora, we have the library but we also have an Historical Society
which has two museums (one under reconstruction as a true museum, the
other a snapshot of a doctor's home office from the 1860s and on).
There are many papers filed with the Historical Society that are not
part of the Library collection, and it's indexed differently. We've
been blessed with a very involved and caring curator who is retiring
after about 25 years of giving to the Historical Society.
On the other hand, if the Queensboro Public Library could extend its
collection of material into peoples' homes via a computer network and
make it more accessible than having to travel to Jamaica to find
anything meaningful, wouldn't that be great? I do recall one or two
very disappointing visits to the Rego Park branch (I lived in Forest
Hills) that convinced me the schlepp on the E or F train and the walk
was worth it to go to the main branch.
So, please forgive my ramble, but I think I'm sort-of agreeing with
you, but also looking at the merging of the technologies to better
serve all people who are inquisitive.
Now, if I could only impart my inquisitiveness to my two boys.
Slowly, I think it's working...but it's frustrating. Often they
prefer The World According to Disney to The Real World. I hope they
understand the difference.
At 09:11 AM 3/25/2006, Marcos Sueiro wrote:
>I must admit I am a bit surprised, if not shocked, to see a
>discussion on the value of libraries in the ARSCList, of all places.
>Come on people! We are talking about the repositories of human
>knowledge!! We're talkin' Alexandria, Cordoba, Trinity College, so
>on and so forth! Possibly one of the greatest ideas of humankind,
>and an amazing gift to all of us. (I am convinced that if someone
>came up with this idea today in the Western World, it would never
>happen. Just imagine the publishers and record companies: "Wait a
>minute. You are going to let people borrow this stuff for free? Are
>you out of your mind????") Libraries are wonderfully anachronistic,
>but also timeless. And while I applaud the idea of digitising
>materials and making them available on the web, it cannot be a
>library's primary function. Such a position I find between naive and
>arrogant, assuming that computers, or something that can read
>computer files, will be around forever. Maybe they will be, maybe
>they won't. One thing we know for sure: Libraries have been around
>for hundreds and hundreds of years, they seem to work, and have
>changed the course of knowledge's history several times, by
>revealing previous knowledge that was not popular at the time, but
>that some inquisitive soul picked up (the Renaissance, anyone?).
>I live in Queens, NY, whose public library system claims to have the
>highest usage in the world, and I love to see people of all creeds,
>colours, and ages populate its library branches. Engaging in one of
>the most wonderful of human endeavours: the sharing of knowledge. For free.
>There is only so much digitising one can do. Only the "useful" stuff
>will be put up on the web. What you end up is with a generic
>MacLibrary of knowledge, Google or not.
>Keep the buildings open!!!
Tape Restoration Seminar: MAY 9-12, 2006; details at Web site.
Richard L. Hess email: [log in to unmask]
Aurora, Ontario, Canada (905) 713 6733 1-877-TAPE-FIX
Detailed contact information: http://www.richardhess.com/tape/contact.htm