Sunday, April 20, 2008

Modern Collections

(magnolias in bloom, downtown Ithaca)

Another thing that has been puzzling me for a while about libraries is the impossible responsibility they once had for collecting everything. There is even now a heavy dread about library collections in terms of missing something crucial or relevant. In the past it was probably really comforting to think that most critical information was found right there in the library. But how impossible is that now? We're relying on the caches of search engines to do a bunch of that work. All that physical collections can do is keep up with what comes out in print, and as more and more things aren't printed anymore, librarians can just try and keep track of where they go.

And I think the idea of a collection will have to be revised: no longer so utilitarian, the objects taking up space in a collection will be monuments or somehow final versions, rather than living works in process or revised editions. What I mean is this: it's easier, cheaper, and faster to make revisions and updates online, so that when the effort is made to create a book there must be some finality to it. This doesn't mean there won't be books to add to the collection, but that the books will be different and so the collection itself will be different.

This may be unclear. I'll have to think about it more.

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