The Library in the New Age

Robert Darnton in the New York Review of Books:

BooksInformation is exploding so furiously around us and information technology is changing at such bewildering speed that we face a fundamental problem: How to orient ourselves in the new landscape? What, for example, will become of research libraries in the face of technological marvels such as Google?

How to make sense of it all? I have no answer to that problem, but I can suggest an approach to it: look at the history of the ways information has been communicated. Simplifying things radically, you could say that there have been four fundamental changes in information technology since humans learned to speak.

Somewhere, around 4000 BC, humans learned to write. Egyptian hieroglyphs go back to about 3200 BC, alphabetical writing to 1000 BC. Accord-ing to scholars like Jack Goody, the invention of writing was the most important technological breakthrough in the history of humanity. It transformed mankind’s relation to the past and opened a way for the emergence of the book as a force in history.

More here.