The library image from above is familiar to all of us. It is the storehouse of information, the scholars retreat, the place where society accumulates the ideas of authors, researchers, and thinkers, the place where anyone can go to find something, as long as they know where to look.
This is also one of several public spaces that routinely are scrutinized by public officials to determine if there is enough funding to remain open, or in some cases if budget cuts or closures are necessary. It is an increasingly depopulated place, with reduced hours of operation, and smaller staff members working to maintain the day to day operations.
Some have argued that continued reduction of social importance that public libraries have seen over the past several years is one part of a larger disinterest in actively engaging in thought, communication, and expression. Other changes, such as the rapid disintegration of traditional newspapers and magazines, and the loss of independent booksellers to large chain companies or online corporations indicate that we are facing a new point in human history, one where reading and writing are not seen as a universal connection point between individuals and the larger society that they exist in.
With the recent flood of apocalypse themed movies, television shows, and novels (think of Max Brooks’ “World War Z” and the popular “Left Behind” series) destructive imagery stands out – something or someone is facing some sort of annihilation. It is out of this tidal wave of vivid imagery that we have witnessed two failed “end of the world” predictions (May 22, 2010 and December 21, 2012). This pattern of thought has become vigorously attached to familiar modes of thinking and expression that have been a fixture of many societies since the invention of Guttenberg’s printing press.
At this point, it may be useful to point out that the images of burning destruction that are so popular in contemporary apocalyptic scenarios is only part of an apocalyptic vision. A genuine apocalypse contains a revelation of something new that will emerge out of something old. Destruction is never the end of the story, but rather the beginning. So, if we are faced with the end of traditional publishing, circulating, and accumulation of ideas, what is left but to look to what is emerging. If we are no longer to be children of the book, as Richard Miller described himself in “This is How We Think,” then what will be children of in the digital age that is dawning?