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 todays 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 minutesalthough you probably
wouldnt 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 childrens librarian,
I recall working in my mothers 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 theyd
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, were learning that digital
and desk reference are not mutually exclusive. Behind the digital dazzle,
librarians and their libraries are preserving and presenting informationboth
bound and unboundfor 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 whats
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, IUBs
rare books and manuscripts repository. As youll learn in this issue,
the Lilly now houses Fugards 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 wordslibraries will continue to thrive alongside the digital revolution because, as guest editor Suzanne Thorin argues in this issues 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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