Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Reading at the intersection

In a Nov. 5 New Yorker article, "Future Reading: Digitization and its discontents", Anthony Grafton looks at Google Book Search and the Google Library Project, balancing their claims and promise with a look at how we read and process information and ideas.

He has some conclusions which should hearten, but not surprise us in the trade:

For now and for the foreseeable future, any serious reader will have to know how to travel down two very different roads simultaneously. ... 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. ... The narrow path still leads, as it must, 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.
It is not coincidental that we're hearing about the slow reading idea and Walt Crawford's Balanced Libraries. Even as we undertake exciting changes that help us become more interactive, deliver service with new tools and remind our patrons of our relevance in a digital world, our core values and services are essentially unchanged.

In marketing terms, reading is our brand. OK, but contrast with the public image of library stodginess. The trick here is to show off the new and glitzy without abandoning -- or ever appearing to abandon -- that core. Nor try to be all things to all people.

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