Let’s Hear It For Libraries!

ArtsJournal today links to an article about 86-year-old South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer in which she defends written and printed words over their pixilated counterparts. Her basic argument is that the very medium of words on pages of paper bound together and manipulated in corporeal space is universal and it encourages the imagination in ways that a digital battery-operated device never will.

I still have not succumbed to the Kindle/iPad craze. But I suppose that’s no surprise given that I still listen to and buy LP records. (I just replaced my stylus last week and they sound better than ever.) But where Gordimer enlightened me further is in her advocacy for libraries, especially in parts of the world where the availability of books for sale is scarce. In such places, the internet and all things requiring electrical power, whether plugged in or rechargeable, are inconceivable luxuries to the majority of the population.

I’m totally spoiled by the convenience of having my own copies of things like books and recordings, and so in recent years I have rarely ventured into libraries. However, this past Friday, I ventured back into the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. (You may recall from a few weeks back that I had misplaced a manuscript for an old score of mine and was only able to track down a photocopy that was missing several key pages. But ten years ago I put all my scores and the AMC Collection shortly before it was permanently transferred to NYPL and, miracle of miracles, they had a complete copy of the score in question so the score can actually now be performed.) But that’s not all that was there. They had readily accessible copies of everything from songs from Kander and Ebb’s failed but wonderful musical 70, Girls, 70 to the Ben Johnston String Quartets. Plus, I ran into five people I knew, two of whom I hadn’t seen in years, and we got into a fascinating talk about hand bells. But that’s a story for another day.

Perhaps one day everything could be as easily accessed online legally. What the internet will never have, despite all my “friends” on Facebook, is the ability to serendipitously share moments of discovery with real friends. Those are the moments that make burgeoning imaginations flourish into something that can become a life’s work.

One thought on “Let’s Hear It For Libraries!

  1. Frank J. Oteri

    Just read through a
    fascinating article on Salon that correlates people’s levels of education with the number of books they grew up with:

    [G]rowing up in a household with 500 or more books is as great an advantage as having university-educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father

    I’m the first person in my family to complete a college degree; I have two in fact. While many members in my family dropped out of high school, I had an aunt who collected tons of books, albeit mostly purchased in flea markets and thrift stores, but quality reading all the same. And I started accumulating books myself by the time I was in junior high school. Which provokes further questions: Can anyone get as invested in “virtual” books? Is ownership somehow part of the investment?

    Reply

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