When technology disrupts culture, the impacts reach far beyond economics. The book as we have known it—an object of a certain size, rectangular form, and weight—was an industrial product resulting from a set of complex economic, legal, and social relationships. What we can do with books is wrapped in a collective understanding that has been constructed through the work, and often the struggle, of women and men over many decades. It is because of that social understanding that I found it hard to tear the covers off a paperback; it is the reason why the burning of books is an act commemorated with plaques and ashamed solemnity.
It is also what makes libraries possible. These organizations, wildly irrational in economic terms and massively underwritten by public resources, acquire the world’s literature and then make it continually available, without discrimination, through free circulation. Through libraries, we optimistically assert that knowledge uplifts us all, and that our culture becomes richer when it is shared.
"Defining 'Library'": Peter Brantley's First Publisher's Weekly Column
Filed by September 19, 2011on