the tomb of the book 12.04.2007, 6:02 PM
posted by ben vershbow
"Vista de la Biblioteca Vasconcelos" by Eneas, on Flickr
A lovely meditation at BLDG Blog on the architecture of storage facilities for unwanted books. Speaks volumes (as it were) to the anxiety of obsolescence that keeps librarians up at night -? the thought of libraries themselves becoming tombs.
...a relatively random piece of 100-year old legislation - dealing with copyright law, of all things - has begun to exhibit architectural effects.
These architectural effects include the production of huge warehouses in the damp commuter belts of outer London. These aren't libraries, of course; they're stockpiles. Text bunkers.
...Perhaps it will take some future moment of cultural archaeology to break into these places, spelunking back into the literate past, to find well-tempered rooms still humming at 50ºF, humidity-free, where the past is refrigerated and Shakespeare's name can still be recognized on the spines of books.
Gary Frost on December 4, 2007 9:00 PM:
Geeze...that looks like brand new construction! Don't librarians know that purpose built storage buildings for old books are going to be expensive? And they probably don't realize that modern warehousing involves all kinds of expensive inventory control and product retrieval. Don't they know that books are obsolete? How can librarians be so dumb?
And evidently they are all doing it, even at Harvard. Don't they know that books are available online? Knowledge transmission is a done deal, ask anyone. These librarians must be among the very few people who know nothing about books. Someone should tell them about the real server farms.
sebastian mary on December 5, 2007 7:11 AM:
Oxford University's Bodleian Library archives a copy of every new book published - which must take miles of storage. When I was a student there we used to imagine networks of tunnels underneath the city, populated by sightless mole-librarians that never came up into daylight and who recognised the books they wanted purely by smell.
Now I know what it actually looks like, I feel vaguely disappointed.
ben vershbow on December 5, 2007 10:35 AM:
I realize now the image is misleading. This is actually a fully functioning library in Mexico City. Check out Geoff's BLDG Blog post for pics of the cold storage facilities. He also shows some ravishing photographs of libraries. I was simply following on that.
Mel Kizedek on December 5, 2007 3:23 PM:
Gary Frost, your blind, self-confidently smug remark reveal the very problem. "Server Farms". Good grief MAN!
Gary Frost on December 5, 2007 8:22 PM:
High density storage with robotic retrieval now characterizes both the physical collections and the online resources. These different server farms mirror each other. The physical books are acting as "leaf masters" stored, not to be read, but to act as both masters and back-ups for digital delivery. They have a strategic role which is reflected by the investments in these facilities. Librarians know about reformatting and knowledge transmission; its what they do.
Gary Frost on December 6, 2007 5:32 AM:
...er, I just had a little epiphany; what if the book is an immutable format, always the same but differing from time to time due to the layers of mediation applied to it? So the primeval state was no mediation and the codex was delivered directly to the senses. Same goes for visual works such as live theater or audio live music.
Then as time goes by, the immutable formats get mediated. Today screen delivered works are transacted through many hand-offs of recording, processing, transmission, decoding, and rendering. Delivery to senses of visual and audio works to the screen are even further mediated as music sharing demonstrates.
But note that the layers of mediation, not the format are in flux. We mediate the primeval state of the format. For example, physical codex books in research libraries are now mediated to distance them from direct, hand-held reading. This is happening as physical books are secured in high density storage, shelved in inventory bins and assigned location by size. We are actually converting the codex library into a replica of a highly mediated digital server farm.
We layer on this mediation not necessarily to deliberately distance our selves from the direct experience of real books or live music. We layer on the mediations because we construe the mediations themselves to be new and preferred formats. This is some kind of conceptual buffer, and perhaps deception, at work.
Commentators on the history of science, note that direct scientific observation is modified by transient mediations. So the universe was once fundamental states of matter, then dynamics of particles, then time and space and now information. But everyone still suspects an unmediated format for the universe is out there.
Steven Harris on December 7, 2007 4:41 AM:
This whole entry is a little silly and full of half-truths. The BLDG Blog entry is really just a paraphrase of a Guardian article about a storage facility being built for the British Library. As a copyright depository, the British Library receives many many books that are little used. This storage facility will not take the place of a public space where books are used. It is simply moving those seldom used materials to a remote location. Many libraries have built such storage spaces. It is no indication at all about the nature of libraries themselves.
You acknowledged the misleading nature of the image included here. The photo is of the José Vasconcelos Library in Mexico, which was built as a public and government library. It is intended to be used by humans; it is a public space. Although its architecture makes all kinds of visual references to the old "stacks" style of library structure, it is not at all the same thing as the book warehouse referred to in the Guardian and BLDG Blog articles. Ironically, the Vasconcelos Library was only open for one year, after being dedicated in 2006, due to structural problems. It is still being repaired. It is not a fully functioning library.
As for Gary Frost's comment about "purpose built storage buildings" being expensive: purpose built buildings are precisely what libraries are. In fact, building high-density book storage is less expensive per square foot than tradition library buildings.
So, you ALL got it ALL wrong! A little fact checking is in order, people.
Gary Frost on December 7, 2007 6:59 AM:
I agree with the observation that blogging flies off in every direction, venting assumptions. So why the lead "tomb of the book"? Why not "trends in preservation and access of print books"?
For all the depth and grace of the lead-in expositions at if:book, I for one, have never seen this forum resolve any taxonomy or structure for discussion of the future of the book. Is there no exemplification here of the function of the book? Or is the screen only a transient scroll of mumblings.
Gary Frost on December 7, 2007 7:24 AM:
Re: exposition of issues, Who is assigning all these tags to lead-ins? It looks to me like the tags are extracted keywords to facilitate field sorting. Has anyone looked at this array for any suggestions of larger structure? Has the accumulation given anyone pause? Are we more concerned with default computer functions or functionality of books?
I suppose that I am missing the whole point here.