a world without books

I read about the destruction of the ancient library in Alexandria in elementary school. The idea filled me with such horror and sadness, since I was able to picture what it would be like to have my local library burn down, that it haunts me to this day. The missing scholarship, works we know of by reference in ancient manuscripts; copies of books that now exist only in fragments or as single examples; the collective knowledge of the ancient western world – gone in a day. Ceasar is the likeliest culprit, setting fire to the library to protect his position when cornered by enemies in Cleopatra’s city. I often think about what the aftermath must have been like for the scholars of the city, to have their repository simply wiped out before their eyes.

There are a lot of reasons things get destroyed. War and disaster are two of the biggies, and as we head into a future of virtual books we are in a position to make decisions about what to preserve and what to store virtually. Both assets are vulnerable. The magpie mind of Roger Ebert (through his always bracing twitter feed) alerted me to a great article In The Atlantic by Jared Keller on The Internet Archive, “a non-profit digital library with the Wikipedian mission of universal access to all knowledge,” that has offered free storage and access to digitized music, movies, websites and nearly three million public domain books since 1996. They are now undertaking the mission of storing physical copies of the works they have stored digitally. A delicious conundrum for a worrier like me – which is more vulnerable, to blackout, server destruction, fire, earthquake, tidal wave, tornado. Check out their blog on the dedication of the facility, in Richmond, California.

So, what will we preserve, and how will we preserve it? As we move away from paper (save the world’s forests, access books more economically, expand the ability and methodology of telling stories) and toward digitized books (devices that take energy to run, are not universally accessible and are housed on computers and servers that are vulnerable to the equivalent of the Alexandria Library fire), what choices will we make about preserving our cultural legacy? We could end up like those stunned scholars I’ve imagined, bereft and without the cornerstone of our intellectual world. The choice to have both forms of our cultural output – the real and the virtual – seems wise, and will mirror the practice of the individual, at least for a generation or two. Me? I have tons of paper books and read mainly digital books. I listen to mp3’s but still have vinyl. What’s your lookout?

*Check out this article about the invention of search engines for the enormous repository of information that is the internet. Fascinating, and on the same page as the winsome illustration above.

I’m pleased to be a part of the Blog-A-Licious blog tour (official start for this tour: Saturday, June 11), a mighty and changing grab bag of blogs writing on the same topic each week. Here are two for you to visit: Neil Ostroff’s Always Writing and lovebabz, a member of She Writes, which if you don’t know is a gathering spot for women writers, about to celebrate it’s second anniversary. Others on the list: Kate and Ashley of Back of the Book Reviews and Shelley Workinger’s awesome blog about food in books, But What Are They Eating? Get hopping.

Here are all the Blog-A-Licious Tour Stops!

  1. Dora – http://peacefrompieces.blogspot.com/
  2. Kriti – http://kriti-howaboutthis.blogspot.com/
  3. Sonia Rumzi – http://soniarumzi.com/
  4. Paula – http://hardlineselfhelp.com/
  5. Kate & Ashley – http://backofthebookreviews.com/
  6. Roy – http://royd-spiltmilk.blogspot.com/
  7. Shaeeza – http://shaeeza.blogspot.com/
  8. Anna – http://annalwalls.blogspot.com/
  9. Lisa – http://misclisa.blogspot.com/
  10. Jessica – http://findingonesway.com/
  11. Corinne – http://www.everydaygyaan.com/
  12. Nicole – http://riverarunsthroughit.blogspot.com/
  13. Tosh – http://totsymae.com/
  14. Desiree – http://www.desireeholttellsall.com/
  15. Shelley – http://bookfare.blogspot.com
  16. Tessa – http://tessadick.blogspot.com
  17. DK Levick – http://dklevick.wordpress.com/
  18. La Vonya – http://www.Battered-not-broken.blogspot.com
  19. Janet – http://jlbcreatives.blogspot.com/
  20. Jim – http://holesinmysoles.blogspot.com/
  21. Linda – http://bookorbust.blogspot.com/
  22. Sibylla – http://divaluscious.com/category/mad-moms-manifesto/
  23. Amber – http://wosushi.wordpress.com/
  24. Lori – http://www.girlparker.typepad.com
  25. Neil – http://www.neilostroff.blogspot.com
  26. Tina – https://tinahoggatt.wordpress.com/
  27. Babz – http://lovebabz.blogspot.com/
  28. John – http://jmountswritteninblood.com/
  29. Violet – http://rhiannonpaille.blogspot.com
  30. Dora – http://blogaliciousblogs.blogspot.com

About Tina Hoggatt

I am an artist and writer and work for 4Culture, King County's cultural arts organization.
This entry was posted in books, digistuff and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to a world without books

  1. This was a great, thought-provoking post. It leads me to the follow-up: With so much “stuff” being mass-produced these days, how much are we creating that’s worth preserving?

    • Tina Hoggatt says:

      This is a great question, Shelley. Some things are meant to be and ought to be ephemeral. Who makes the choice to value our stories and art forms, our history and architecture, enough to preserve them? It’s individual and collective, and one reason governments and organizations matter. There will always be archivists. Do I care to have my twitter feed preserved? No. But 100 years from now it might be of interest to a historian. I think your question is central to our social memory and one that has been continually asked over the ages.

  2. Sonia Rumzi says:

    Great post. Wanted to come and check you out since we are on the same blog tour this week. Hello Tina. And if we do not preserve it, will that make any difference. History is subjective!

  3. Great question, we all want some part of us to be around after we are long gone. Our writings, blogs and posts may very well be interesting to some in the future. It’s great to be part of the blog tour with you.

  4. wosushi says:

    Loved your post. While my music collection is nearly all digital now, I still have bookcases full of books, and can’t get used to the idea of only reading them on my phone or computer. It does make you wonder what future generations will think of what we’ve left before them.

  5. I was not living in Seattle when the Center for Urban Horticulture was bombed, but I had much of the same horror when I heard about it. Some rare manuscripts relating were destroyed as well as
    precious samples of rare and endangered species of plants being cultivated for reintroduction into the Cascades. It still saddens me.

    But the question of what we should preserve – especially in relation to all the data on the web – is a conundrum of a different sort. There is so much garbage on the web! This odd belief that quantity & brevity of posts matter more than actually having something to say and saying it well is producing a lot of garbage. But who gets to be the judge of what is worth keeping for posterity.

  6. Paula Renaye says:

    Hi, Tina!
    I think the loss at Alexandria haunts me as well. Maybe that’s why I am compelled to have my own library and can’t bear to let any book go. Books are my friends and I love having them around. One day I’d love to have one of those huge libraries with a rolling ladder!

    So nice to meet you!

  7. totsymae1011 says:

    I learned a great deal in reading your post and definitely, was given new concepts to ponder if books were to become an extinct commodity. Thanks for the insight and sharing.

  8. Tina Hoggatt says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful discussion – and for the visits from fellow bloggers. preservation is an ongoing conversation and needs to happen on an individual as well as societal level. We always save what we care about, and what we care about changes over time.

  9. One comment about whether e-books are good, actually there are out of print books that are starting to get new life as e-books. It takes away the cost of printing up a bunch of paper books that people may or may not purchase, and is now saved and available when it wasn’t before. Glad to be a part of the Blog-A-Licious Blog Tour with you, great post!

  10. Roy Durham says:

    the only thing that needs not be archive is the stale air from the outhouse. save everything else it is the foundation of the future. great post thank you for being on the tour and god bless

  11. Now, there’s a few points worth pondering. Thank you Tina for the insight and for joining the blog tour.
    Cheers – Dora

  12. Tina,
    I am all for technology but I think I like to have the feel of a leather bound book in my hands : ). To me there is nothing like the feel and the smell of a book…
    Great post, Nice to meet you on the tour..
    Here is my Link to the World Without Books
    Finding One’s Way

  13. John says:

    Great post, Tina! I believe everyone has brought their A game on this tour. Thanks for sharing with us all.

  14. kriti says:

    What a horrific vision that – a library being destroyed – A sacrilege to my opinion! So glad to have discovered you in the tour Tina – You have a new big fan!

  15. Tina Hoggatt says:

    I have so enjoyed this tour and the different takes on this subject. Blog-A-Licious rocks! Thanks for all the comments – I am going to finish the tour tomorrow, as I was in a meeting for a big hunk of today. Thanks, all for your terrific comments.

  16. Love Babz says:

    Libraries and books are so sacred this is why we are so freaked out at the thought of books becoming extinct. I am glad I stopped by on this wonderful Blog-A-Licious Tour.

  17. JLBCreatives says:

    What a great tour! So glad to meet you and admire your take on the subject. I too have hard copies and an ereader. My novels are stored on 5 different thumb and out drives as well as printed out three times – a copy at my sister’s, a copy at mom & dad’s, and a copy tucked away here. I know, a little bit…OK…a lot… obsessive on not wanting to lose my work. 😉 It’s tough for me to say what books are worth it and what books are not, because I’m sure every published writer has been through the same blood, sweat, and tears I have to bring about their works of art. So for me to have to choose which ones are more important than another wouldn’t happen – they would all be archived and deemed important. Needless to say, I cannot imagine a world without books.

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