Academics challenge ‘apocalyptic’ predictions for future of libraries

‘Resurrecting the Book’ conference hears support for printed word

November 18, 2013

Academics, book artists, historians, librarians and publishers from 14 countries joined forces at the newly opened Library of Birmingham on 15-17 November to debate the continuing value of books as objects and the changing role of libraries in today’s world.

A collaboration between Newman University, the Typographic Hub at Birmingham City University, Digital Ink Drop, the Library of Birmingham and the Library of Lost Books, the first Resurrecting the Book conference ranged from mediaeval manuscripts to the latest digital technology which some believe will soon put the codex out of business.

Returning to his native city, Sir David Cannadine, Dodge professor of history at Princeton University, reflected on the Birmingham Central Library of his childhood and argued that the great libraries of the city have always existed “in an almost constant state of change and flux”.

The latest worries about funding cuts, the digital revolution and information overwhelming knowledge were “merely the latest in a long line of challenges extending back to the ancient world when libraries were first invented”.

“The idea of the book may have never been more richly fraught with associations and complications than in our current circumstances,” suggested Johanna Drucker, Bernard and Martin Breslauer professor of bibliography at the University of California, Los Angeles, pointing to the paradoxical ways that the publishing industry was making full use of digital media to “trumpet forth” its “apocalyptic” claims about “endings, changes and transformations”.

And Nicholas Pickwoad, director of the Ligatus Research Centre (University of the Arts, London) drew on the history of bookbinding to set out “a really good reason to preserve real books”, since the “material object has locked up within it… a significant part of the history of the book, much of which is not accessible by other means”.

Other speakers considered everything from fan cultures to sonnet sequences, from periodicals to piracy.

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Reader's comments (1)

As an academic librarian and musicologist, I wish I'd known about this conference, which sounds as though it must have been inspirational. Today, I helped someone find piano concerto scores (even if they were on the Petrucci database, they'd have been costly to download and bulky to use - library sheet music is far more suitable for a pianist); responded to a query about a couple of very old folk song manuscripts, catalogued a mountain of piano and flute music, and provided detailed staff catalogue training. I also blogged about conferences and other events. But it'll be a long time before our students decide they don't need 'real' books and music!