Indiana University       Research & Creative Activity       January 2001 • Volume XXIII, Number


Editor's Notes

In a recent single-panel cartoon that appeared in the local paper, a little boy is standing in front of an elderly man seated in a chair. “What was it like,” the young boy asks, “living in a bricks-and-mortar world?”

One might well imagine the same question being asked by today’s college students, particularly when it comes to libraries. At a large research university such as IU, you could download the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in a matter of minutes—although you probably wouldn’t because you can easily search the entire thing on the Web. In our high-speed-online-anytime world, college students might well be asking, “What was it like, going to a bricks-and-mortar library?”

As the daughter of a children’s librarian, I recall working in my mother’s bricks-and-mortar library on occasion, logging in new books and filing neatly typed cards in long wooden drawers. I loved the feel of “her” library, where there was something for everyone, where the children who asked questions could be certain they’d get answers, and good ones.

Today, card catalogs may have all but disappeared, but the unique “feel” of physical libraries remains. Libraries, perhaps especially in a university setting, ares still special places in which librarians continue to work to find good answers to new questions. Even as library archives and collections go electronic, we’re learning that digital and desk reference are not mutually exclusive. Behind the digital dazzle, librarians and their libraries are preserving and presenting information—both bound and unbound—for the rest of us.

When we think of libraries at IU, we may well think of the monolithic Main Library in Bloomington, now due to be renamed in honor of IU's late chancellor, Herman B Wells. In fact, the university-wide system has nearly 200 librarians working in more than 30 libraries that, taken together, hold more than 8.7 million volumes. Still, sometimes it takes a pair of eyes from someplace vastly different to get us to see what’s in our own backyard.

Noted South African playwright Athol Fugard visited IU Bloomington last fall to give a series of lectures, classes, and interviews. During his visit, he made a trip to the Lilly Library, IUB’s rare books and manuscripts repository. As you’ll learn in this issue, the Lilly now houses Fugard’s papers, which were formerly stored in a small building in South Africa. Fugard walked slowly through the Lilly, pausing often to look in a case or gaze at a shelf. Suddenly, he stopped, looked up, and said to his hosts, “I feel we should take our shoes off. We are walking on sacred ground.”

Bricks, mortar, paper, printed words—libraries will continue to thrive alongside the digital revolution because, as guest editor Suzanne Thorin argues in this issue’s opening essay, we need them. Libraries of the future, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has said, will remain places “where electronically dispensed information is linked with a storehouse of human memory, with human judgment, and with the miscellaneous humanity of the community itself.” —L.B.

 

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