An Argument in Favor of the Digitization of the Library

I’ve nearly gotten through the copy-edited manuscript, which has been a pretty overwhelming and, at moments, frustrating task. I’ve got six small queries yet to finish dealing with, three of which have to do with whether an emphasis appeared in the original text or if I added it when I quoted, and one of which similarly has to do with the use of an ellipsis in the original text. All of this running-down of sources that I, in many cases, haven’t looked at in five years has produced a kind of paradoxical reaction in me: on the one hand, I’m extraordinarily grateful for the web, and particularly for Google Print and for Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature, each of which has allowed me to see several original texts without having to go track the physical copies down in the library. This seems to me the best of what these services can do: they’ve allowed me to check the page numbers on citations, to check weird wording in quotes, and to find the pagination for articles in volumes.

But at one and the same time, I’m immensely frustrated by the texts that I can’t get ahold of this way. Some of them are in my personal library — but I can’t get into the office until later this morning, and would like to be able to access that information now, because once I get into the office I’m going to have office-type crises to deal with. Most of the texts that I don’t own are in the library, but my relationship to the idea of “going to the library” has dramatically changed in the age of the web; physically walking across campus to that building over there requires a kind of time-investment that I can’t make right now, and that seems particularly problematic when all I need to chase down are three references.

Perhaps this is merely laziness speaking, but in an age when I can access almost any information via this magic box on my desk, those bits I can’t get at rankle all the more. I’ll always want to do my primary reading of print copies — at least until there’s been another major change in the technology, of course — but for this kind of reference-consultation, I want everything available, and now.

3 thoughts on “An Argument in Favor of the Digitization of the Library

  1. That’s precisely why I’ve taken to scanning the primary sources I deal with. I’ve got five crates of xeroxes–c19 magazine articles, sermons, letters, etc–and when a journal recently asked me to check something, I thought “Dear God. Do I even know where that file is anymore?”

  2. Last week I heard Kenny Goldsmith, founder of the online archive UbuWeb, speak at the Word and Image conference at the University of Pennsylvania. He walked up to the podium wearing a T-shirt with the title of his talk splashed across it: “If it doesn’t exist on the Internet, it doesn’t exist.”

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