Friday, March 29, 2013

Libraries and the invention of information - Wiegand

A Companion to the History of the Book, part of Blackwell’s Companions to Literature and Culture series, provides an overview to the relatively new interdisciplinary study of the history of print culture.  The book is broken into four sections; methods and approaches, the history of the material text, beyond the book and issues. Wiegand’s essay appears in the final section Issues which hosts a variety of essays topics including books as art, copyright, and obscenity.

This article takes an interdisciplinary look at the history of the library, drawing from social theories and historical studies. Wiegand begins with an extensive definition of the five aspects of library services including:
            1) collection of texts (no matter their format)
            2) organization to facilitate access (administrators and the public)
            3) maintenance for the use of individuals
            4) voluntary institutions
            5) services and collection they provide have been regularly influenced and modified by the public they sought to serve (p. 531)

Keeping these five services in mind, the reader is taking on a historical retrospective of librarianship illustrating how technical advances changed libraries.

Religion played a large role in the history of librarianship. During the first millennium, Christianity, the proliferation of paper, and the creation of the codex elevated texts from scrolls to an item with projected status. The Middle Ages brought forth new copying techniques and the development of the western university system. During this time, the idea of texts conveying power was finally becoming a mode for the spread of middle-class, male views as opposed to marginalized groups. Through the 17th century, membership and subscription libraries became popular and the ideas of libraries promoting “useful knowledge” began to be the librarian’s philosophy. It was not until the mid-19th century that the tax-based library we know today became popular, as well as the idea of studying reading as a social construct.

A flaw of this book was revealed in a review from Library Quarterly by Elaine Treharne which expresses the general overview of the many topics related to the history of the book and the institutions surrounding them (p. 379). While this reading gives a good overview of the history of librarianship, it is far from speculative in what the new advances in technology will bring. It is helpful, from a librarian perspective, to see that libraries have been able to adapt to the changes which surround them, including changes in products, patrons, and services. Is there something that makes the technological shifts we are currently experiencing different than previous changes? Are libraries going to continue to be the repositories they once were, or as digital libraries have illustrated, are libraries a place to be occupied by people rather than resources?

Treharne, E. (2009). A Companion to The History of the Book. Library Quarterly, 79(3), 376-379.

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