|Detroit Public Schools Book Depository, 2025 14th Street
Photo by tunnelbug on Flickr
The matter of the fact is that text is not dead (“Text” is a part of the world of visual communication) and if we intend to be taken seriously as sites of production then it behooves us to keep the lines to the past open for those in the future.
And he’s absolutely right. There is no prima facie reason to abandon a technology simply because something new and different has come along. Sure, it sometimes goes that way: we replaced the typewriter with the computer in less than two decades. Then again, for all the gee-whiz technology we’re buying, I’ve got five bucks that says you’ve got a pen or pencil within your reach.
|That’s vintage Canadian money. I’m all about the Lauriers, baby.|
Where am I going with this?
There’s an unfortunate tendency in some library circles to view new technologies or new theories as the one and only future of librarianship. It’s said that ebooks will replace print books, smartphones will replace desktops, the cloud will replace local storage, and so on. And that’s just the tech side of things. Library practice sees the same push towards replacement. Patron driven acquisitions will replace collection development. Transliteracy will replace information literacy. Knowledge construction will replace knowledge collection. Tagging will replace classification systems. You get the idea. And, you know, some of that may in fact happen. But, a lot of it won’t. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping around. New Coke was grody to the max. The New Age movement is patent nonsense. New Jack Swing? Color Me Sadd.
Wow. That’s just one “Ooh, baby, ooh” from the worst pun ever. Sorry.
by stgermh on Flickr
My point is just that some of our current practices are in need of replacement, but others will outlive each and every one of us. Sure, saying that text is dead is just hyperbolic rhetoric, not meant to be taken seriously. But, the threat of thinking in terms of obsolescence is very real. For all we know, ebooks may go the way of the microfiche; for all we know, social tagging may go the way of the card catalog. Maybe so, maybe not. But we should at least avoid the rhetoric; we shouldn’t turn our backs on the past because something better might come along.
Don’t get me wrong. The pitfalls of techno-theoretical boosterism don’t entail that we shouldn’t be advocates for new technologies and theories. If we don’t actively pursue, explore, and recommend new technology or new theory, we won’t be going anywhere as a profession. We need to embrace new technologies and see how far we can push them, even if they do turn out to be worthless in the long run. The important thing is that we don’t pretend that existing technologies no longer matter when something new comes along. We shouldn’t think in terms of replacement, we should think in terms of addition or enhancement. That is, we shouldn’t look at our print books begrudgingly because we think they’ll soon be replaced. We shouldn’t resent what we have because we want what’s yet to come.
If ebooks replace print books, so be it, but we shouldn’t give print books the cold shoulder just because Kindles just got cheaper. And we shouldn’t throw around hyperbolic “X is dead” statements until X is truly long gone. Spending time on future technology and trends is absolutely vital to our profession. But so is spending time on past technologies and trends, and we need to remember that the utility of the technologies and theories of the present can only be determined in relation to the past. I’m not saying we need to start teaching all about microfilm in library instruction or that the scriptorium is integral to the modern library. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that advancement necessarily means replacement. As Joe says: “it behooves us to keep the lines to the past open for those in the future.” Again, we shouldn’t resent what we’ve got because something better might come along. Let text and print die a natural death, don’t let them die from neglect.
Yes, I know that these books weren’t replaced by ebooks.
They were replaced by nothing at all.
by shanegorski no Flickr