Blogging slowly, as centuries go by, about the really messy library
November 4, 2007 by ruediger

Somehow I have difficulties with the hurry of blogging. I was at this wonderful daylong workshop about the “Really Modern Library“, organized by Bob Stein and Ben Vershbow of the Institute of the Future of the Book at the London School of Economics. That was more than 2 weeks ago. Is this still worth blogging?

In the meantime, I had to work (for my income), fight with my son (over adolescence issues), and see how my single and working life both go on.

In the New Yorker, I read a knowledgable and fabulously instructive piece by Anthony Grafton about the digitization of libraries, reviewing all the current efforts to digitize libraries and other knowledge stuff, concluding dryly: “A record of all history appears even more distant.”

¬†I suppose there has been some misunderstanding of Gafton’s point, as he is not really anti-tech, but he pragmatically shares a common sense with a certain type of Science Fiction novels and movies where, despite all of¬†the splendid future achievements, there is always a lot just messy, or human.

Personally,¬†I like this. I always feel kind of appalled by the more shiny anticipations, like “organizing all the information of the universe”, or such matter. Sure, it is marvellous that I can literally have much of my relevant information at my fingertips by now, and this is how I work on a daily basis. Frankly, it is just gorgeous that I can assemble my personal belongings plus partners and friends across several continents, plus pretty much effectively short cut censorship (well, not entirely, but much better then as it was under the old Iron Curtain), when these partners happen to include a few more odd destinations – and all this¬†by the power of digital integration.

But the fantasy of a clean and seamlessly integrated information space is just a different story. Which is GOOD news.

¬†As I attended the “Really Modern Library” meeting, I directly came from the Frankfurt Book Fair where I had picked up a copy of Don Delillo’s new novel “Falling Man”, in German, yet not the book, which was released only a couple of weeks later, but a 20 odd pages short cut version in the supplement of the German high brow weekly Die Zeit. This was NOT a first chapter, but an abridged version of a full scale novel, reduced to its core (yet still very much readable!), not by some pirates or lunatics, but by the German editor plus translator, plus by Don Delillo himself.

Of course, the magazne version was¬†meant to provide some innovative promotion for the book. But it was clearly inspired by the “Web” mode of dealing with text: There are just many ways of representing any text, or thought, or music – “or whatever” (as any 14 year old, like my son, would¬†have it).

This comes with at least 2 problems:

1. There is no ‘one’ text anymore, but many texts for each piece (e.g. I wrote about this insight, a week ago, in German at Perlentaucher, but now rewrite it, in English for my blog – and don’t bother to have it in print anywhere at this point. So there is no definite, ‘reliable’¬†version of these thoughts).¬† Which directly brings me to

2. A serious problem for the copyright debate, as an ever enhanced copyright legislation desperately needs that one original piece of content to protect Рyet exactly this is what is just falling apart, or even better, turning into drifting sands.

¬†This is probably one of the more tricky issues that any “Really Modern Library” will need to confront:

The books in the really old library were valuable BECAUSE its items, books, came with the quality of being reliable: They had a cover page and a back page, and a clearly defined content between those ends.

The stupid question that results is this: Can there be a library, without such books?

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