The Library and the Internet

The Library and the Internet August 1, 2008

Does anyone else feel guilty about reading too much online instead of from our own books? I am perennially behind on reading, required and otherwise, yet this could without question be alleviated by stepping away from the computer. A personal library – its tangible, textured objects – is a wonderful and exclusive thing. It is autobiographical, carrying with it the intellectual formation of its creator. Unlike the Internet, it feeds the senses. The Internet is not a massive library and the accumulation of information is not knowledge. The problem with the online world is that there is no hierarchy: a library must have selection and exclusion. The Internet offers the false, fleeting feeling of omnipresence, just as its “communities” have value yet are quite capable of devaluing the true building of community, which is loyalty to persons accomplished by personal intimacy and interaction.

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  • David Nickol

    On the one hand, I probably spend way too much time online. On the other, my personal library benefits from it. I frequently read about books of interest when I am surfing the Internet, and I often ask for book recommendations in forums like this. More often than not, when someone recommends a book to me, I buy it. Even if I swore off the Internet completely, I couldn’t read everything I have. But my library is better than it would be without the Internet, and the reading I do manage to get done is at a higher level than it would otherwise be.

  • blackadderiv

    Kevin Drum recently had a piece in the Washington Monthly in which he confessed a lot of books seemed “padded.” I’m inclined to agree, though I think that to some extent this is a relatively new phenomenon. Particularly when we’re talking about politics and/or current events, an increasing number of books these days start out as an article for a magazine which draws the attention of a publisher and then is expanded into a book. Crunchy Cons happened that way, as did, I believe, the Grand New Party Book.

    As to your question, I think different mediums are better for different purposes. If I’m looking for a particular bit of information, the internet is probably the best way to go. If I want to read for enjoyment, books generally have the upper hand.

  • Jeremy

    I had a wonderful experience at the library a little while back. Once I found the book I was looking for, I turned around to the shelf behind me, and ended up getting immersed in wonderful picture book on Japanese architecture.

    What is good and bad about an internet search is that there is no journey. The result is quick, but you go nowhere. No accidental discoveries, no unrelated tid bits floating in.

    As mentioned in the post, there is a also a selection process. For a book to make it to the library, someone felt it was important enough to write, others thought it was important enough to edit and publish, and finally, someone thought the book worthy for the library.

  • No accidental discoveries, no unrelated tid bits floating in.

    Really? I actually have that experience on the internet quite frequently. Not the same feeling as accidental discoveries in a library or bookstore, but a good experience nonetheless.

  • Reading books online that one has heard about in other contexts but which one cannot get hold of due to lack of access to an academic library and/or a limited budget is quite useful, but a bit sore on the eyes (especially if said limited budget prevents too many printouts!).

  • David Nickol

    I was rereading E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel while waiting for James Wood’s How Fiction Works to come out. Forster pokes fun at a “pseudoscholar” who wrote a book called Materials and Methods of Fiction in which novels are classified by, among many other things, the weather. Forster conceals the “pseudoscholar’s” name, and when I first read Aspects of the Novel, it was before we all had the Internet at our disposal. I was curious to know who the author was, so I did a Google search for Materials and Methods of Fiction, and not only was I able to identify the author as Clayton Hamilton, I was also able to download a PDF of the complete text (free) from Google Books.