Where is the body of the librarian?

Have you been to a library lately? They look like TV salesrooms. (78)

The kind of poetry that belies mortality through the eternalities of hyperspace, through the Google search, is of no use. Poetry is not information. Information is a corpse. (165)

Before we became obligated to our minds, we were obligated to the world. Its bodies conception and celebration and morning. (11)

-Dean Young,The Art of Recklessness.

Here we are, dealers in corpses. Libraries stand accused of forgetting the world, not considering the art of life in our dealings with corpses of digital information, preserved in hypothetical bitstreams. Materiality, conversely looks more like a life lived and one worth living, although Young’s barb about looking like TV salesrooms still rings true. Still, we as librarians place the highest value on information and knowledge, all else comes second. The form of the library and the definition of the librarian both follow the functions we provide for the life of the mind, or so it seems. But in reality, the content we provide is tied directly to materiality, and librarianship is as well. In his book Mechanisms, Matthew Kirschenbaum lays the materiality of “hyperspace” bare:

Computers are unique in the history of writing technologies in that they present a premeditated material environment built and engineered to propagate an illusion of immateriality. (135, but the whole book, really.)

So much for information as corpse. That is an illusion that computers provide, and it is no one’s fault but our own for propping it up in our library-cum-salesrooms. There was a recent hoopla of Seth Godin’s call to arms for better marketing of libraries, and a number of responses called for the spending of money to follow. But that’s why our libraries look like the salesroom/mausoleums of information that continue to protect the immaterial illusion, and also why the profession puts that which is supposedly immaterial first. As Kirschenbaum fruitfully illustrates, the division between materiality and immateriality is fairly exaggerated. Libraries should choose life and stop pretending that the materiality and supposed lack thereof are concrete. Where are your bodies, librarians?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s