Local author Jane Brox has published an illuminating essay about the history of reading in the Boston Globe this past Sunday. In it, she traces the past present and future of reading. One of the more interesting sections deals with the auditory tradition of reading, especially during the Medieval Ages, since there were few books and even fewer readers. Her meditation on the future of reading in a digital world is also interesting, and being a library we especially appreciate her defense of the printed word and our role in its preservation:
As the screen overtakes the solid page, and the ground floors of libraries have begun to look like the decks of starships, and the page has become its own lamp, as millions of books become available at the click of a key, and a simple search will turn up almost anything one needs to recall, surely the memory of what is read is dissolving all that much faster. As a stalwart reader of printed books, I’m left to wonder what will happen to the wide, slow silty river of the their history, to the countless volumes waiting now in the abandoned silence of library stacks. Stacks: The word itself connects books to the harvest, to corn and hay. They were always earthbound. Smell the must, feel the brittle, browning pages between your thumb and forefinger. The tears, the cracked spines, the stains and folds. Even if we readers forget them, printed books will hold us in their memory.
The Pollard’s physical structure may never look like a starship but we, along with other modern libraries, are in a sense charting a course through strange new worlds in the digital universe. Though, our circulation numbers will attest that our stacks are far from being abandoned.
The full essay is available here. Consider subscribing to the Globe if you appreciate the writing.