the internet, the desert, and new theories of libraries.

It’s populated, but every time some side of the internet becomes constructed, the internet finds a new desert for itself.

But when we do the internet, we are not servants, we are doing something that is not really professional. That is exactly why it is powerful.

Mitos Manetas

Because to me, doing a magazine is still very artificial, I sometimes wake up and say to myself, why do I do that? Who cares?

With the internet, I imediately connect to a community of younger people who actually are sharing something with me.

Olivier Zahm

It’s worth watching this video. It has space and solemnity, but it is also a conversation. The points that Manetas and Zahm make are, in my mind, foundational to a new understanding of what any library should be. It’s contradictory to say “I want a desert” and “I want conversation,” but it speaks to our most human impulses: to want time to ourselves as well as with others. In a recent(ish) blog post, Christine Madsen writes that:

Prior to the Victorian Era most academic libraries were what Matthew Battles might characterize as “Parnassan” – small, well focused institutions where what mattered was not the quantity of the collections, but the quality.

The goal of any new theory of library must of course accommodate the increasing needs in research and scholarship for large quantities of information, but should not preface quantity of information over all else. As important as the information itself, is providing and supporting an environment that allows for the transformation of that information into new knowledge

Having all of this information is amazing, but noisy. There’s no reason to call for a library-throwback and get all nostalgic about not having access to amazing things, but the “Parnassan” value of focus and quality over quantity, as Madsen illustrates, is not highly regarded right now. Libraries need to be able to make a desert, a place people can focus, fill up, and explore for themselves outside of the crush of anything that distracts us, our professions and obligations included. By the same token, Madsen points out that we also need that space where we can interact with others. Manetas and Zahm are conversing. Libraries cannot be just a desert, and they cannot be just a conversation. They need to meet a complex, human need: they need to be both. As far as I can tell, the current model of libraries is failing to do just that.

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