Special Collections! Alongside reproducibility, quality, and luxury.

I have extremely mixed feelings about how easy it has become to duplicate other people’s words, music, and images (both still and video). But I can imagine the joys of living in a world where all things were as easy to reproduce at will…..In a world where everything is completely level and where nothing is difficult to obtain, does desire remain?

Coming from a new music blog, this really got me thinking about the cultural capital that libraries accrue. There are the oohs and aaahs that I frequently indulge in when I go into pretty much any special collections room, or the highly revered language I use to describe my short but sweet time at the Newberry in Chicago.  The oldness, the rareness, the fanciness. They all short-circuit my critical thinking and make me speak in librarian-googly-mush. These are the places where we can see treasures of cultural heritage, where memory can be served like nowhere else. At first, it  seems like the key to all of this is rarity.

But, it’s nice to know that digital reproducibility doesn’t take away from that. Take any spec. coll. digitized collection, and a lot of that mystique doesn’t fall away. It stays constant, even passed as bits over a screen, at least for me. While not as high impact as a physical thing, it still acts as a quick look into a privileged world. It allows us to see its rarity, and the digital copy taunts us as a near-copy of an unreproducible experience. As some folks in the know tell us:

We believe that luxury is rarity. We believe that innovation – the pursuit of new rarity – needs to be a redoubled goal of all luxury brands.

But I have to take a step back. Is rarity the only part of desire? I desire a cup of black coffee, a new CD, and the occasional ability to rescind my adulthood. None of those things are rare at all. There’s something else that explains this: rarity does not mean that something is actually of good quality. And quality is what really, truly counts. If you can make quality reproducible, you’re sitting on something valuable. Now, where’s the coffee pot?


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