Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Grafton on the Future of Reading

Anthony Grafton makes some predictions about the future of reading in the November 4th issue of the New Yorker, see

Grafton on Future Reading

He argues that the Google Book Search, billed as "a comprehensive index of all the books in the world," the Google Library Project, which is a collection of digitized books, and other efforts on the Internet, "will not bring us a universal library, much less an encyclopedic record of human experience." He thinks that the admittedly rapid developments that are going on as read this, will not eradicate our need for "libraries and archives." Scholars will still have to visit them. "For now and for the foreseeable future, any serious reader will have to know how to travel down two very different roads simultaneously." True, you can "sit in your local coffee shop, and your laptop can tell you a lot. If you want deeper, more local knowledge, you will have to take the narrower path that leads between the lions and up the stairs."

I consider this to be a good thing. Like Jorge Luis Borges, I tend to think of paradise as "a kind of library."

I don't know whether Grafton's "narrow path" to "crowded public rooms where the sunlight gleams on varnished tables, and knowledge is embodied in millions of dusty, crumbling, smelly, irreplaceable documents and books" was designed to evoke that image.

What I do know is that the Internet and electronic libraries may seem to make note-taking easier, but that this will largely be just an appearance. Serious reading will require just as much effort as it has always required. It's just that the obstacles and opportunities will shift.

See also

Adventures in Wonderland


Digitization in History

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