Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10397/1729
Title: Fire in the rain : academic librarians and the new profession of ‘rare book engineering’
Authors: Storey, Colin
Issue Date: Mar-2010
Publisher: Pao Yue-kong Library, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Source: Academic Librarian 2 : Singing in the Rain, ALSR 2010, Conference towards Future Possibilities, Hong Kong, 11-12 March 2010, conference proceedings, session 1B, p. [1-14].
Abstract: In the twelfth century, the prolific Southern Song Dynasty Chinese poet, Lu You, wrote a work called A Portent [Longgua]. In the poem, he describes the onset of a great storm, "And lightning shot red fire down on earth". This presentation looks at a future of the written and printed word in terms of the lighting shock which could rain down upon the scholarly record – a disaster which could be precipitated by the very people charged with preserving that record: librarians of key centres of learning and research. Librarians may well be on the verge of repudiating a long-standing public trust in their roles as cautious conservationists. If they do so, they would be denying their professional heritage for short-term political and economic considerations in an era when their universities are buffeted by economic boom and bust storms.
Rarely used printed books and journals (traditionally the majority stock of any library) seem to have become a liability and a burden in this web-spun, e-raddled world. In response, it would seem that librarians are becoming active participants in the rush to achieve a ‘print→less’ heaven. For the first time in history on such a scale and in any period of war or peace, the next twenty years could witness a huge and deliberate global dispersal and even destruction of the printed word in university and research libraries. This Fahrenheit 451 - equivalent event would be carefully planned not by ruthless emperors and despots riding rough-shod over the bodies of librarians to rewrite historical records, but by…the librarians themselves. Given librarians’ innate professional ability for organized thoroughness, a series of small local projects, largely unremarked on in the wider world, would be very successfully executed, leading to global and possibly uncoordinated weeding. True, librarians have always weeded their collections for many reasons: because print versions were worn out (and easily replaced); because editions were out-of-date and misleading to readers; because the subject matter was no longer of relevance to teaching and research strategies, and so on.
This presentation explores wholly new challenges facing professional librarians. For example, since e-versions are so predominant and eminently cost-effective, lesser well-endowed libraries may no longer be interested in receiving discarded print copies from larger ones. Consequently, many more books traditionally considered of some 'worth' in some library somewhere would be given away, sold, or pulped ('accidental conservationism'). This sustained dispersal or destruction of printed material from the protective walls of the academy will re-classify 'ordinary' works into titles of "relative" or even "absolute rarity" worldwide. Academic librarians will have created a new profession for themselves - 'rare book engineers' – by massively reducing the number of copies held in the world’s libraries and relying on private book collectors (if they still exist in 2030) to acquire any of the millions of discarded titles and preserve them for posterity.
Rights: Reproduced with permission of the author.
Type: Conference Paper
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10397/1729
Appears in Collections:LIB ALSR 2010 Conference Papers & Presentations

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