Editorial: Ex-libris

Trent Ernst, Editor


Sometime in the last year or two, I’ve become that guy. You know. That guy that I used to make fun of. The one who must hold something at arms length to read. The one who needs a magnifying glass to read the instructions on the back of a medicine bottle. One who has to squint and refocus to read what’s on the iPad screen first thing in the morning.

Yes, my eyes are no longer what they once were, especially for reading.

Which tears me up, as my favourite thing in life is reading.

Well, second favourite.

I grew up in the library, and that’s almost a literal statement, dividing my time between my school’s library and the town’s public library, which was only three or four days a week.

While I was never someone to baby a book (I know I broke the spine; they’re designed to be OPENED…), neither was I one who liked to see books deliberately mistreated. A broken spine is one thing. But deliberately damaging a book? You know how hard it was for me, in my first year of college, accepting that it was standard practice to highlight the textbooks. It felt wrong. Like I was defacing a work of art.

So, even though I don’t work in the public sector, and I am not a scientist, I find this whole kerfluffle around the governement gutting seven of the 11 national Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) libraries to be heartbreaking.

When the news first broke, the government assured us that the libraries were being digitized. However, that does not appear to be the case, with hundreds and thousands of books apparently just being dumped in the trash, it’s hard not to be reminded of some of the most dystopian science fiction stories (think Fahrenheit 451 or a Canticle for Leibowitz).

Okay, so the government vehemently denies actually burning books, a la Bradbury’s classic. And they say that the only books being tossed are duplicates, but even so, it’s tough watching the wholesale destruction not just of the books but of the institutions that held them.

This is only the latest in an effort by the government to streamline it’s library system. Since 2012, more than a dozen libraries have been closed.

The government says that closing these libraries is an effort to save money. They also say that no actual information is being lost.

That is up for debate. But even if all the information is replicated digitally, something is lost when information is only available digitally. And I say this as someone who loves consuming information digitally (see earlier comments re: failing eyesight).

Even though I love consuming information digitally, I know that a completely digital word makes serendipity harder.

You know what I mean. If I go looking for information on one topic on-line, I am going to find information on that one topic. In a physical library, however, if I go looking for information on one topic, I will be lead to the area where the books about that topic are held.

Surrounding those books, are books about related topics, and by browsing through the stacks in that area, I might find information that, while not what I was looking for, is related to the original topic in a way that broadens my understanding of the original topic. That expands or expounds upon my research or interest in ways that are exciting and unexpected.

In a digital library, it is much harder to browse through the virtual stacks, to find those connections that the machine fails to make. And by extension, it makes the job of the people doing the work much harder.