The library: “an oasis of bookish tranquility”? – N.Carr

A particularly striking illustration of how the Net is reshaping our expectations about media can be seen in any library. Although we don’t tend to think of libraries as media technologies, they are. The public library is, in fact, one of the most important and influential informational media ever created – and one that proliferated only after the arrival of silent reading and movable-type printing.

A community’s attitudes and preferences toward information take concrete shape in its library’s design and services. Until recently, the public library was an oasis of bookish tranquility where people searched through shelves of neatly arranged volumes or sat in carrels and read quietly.

Today’s library is very different. Internet access is rapidly becoming its most popular service. According to recent surveys by the American Library Association, ninety-nine percent of U. S. public library branches provide Internet access, and the average branch has eleven public computers. More than three-quarters of branches also offer Wi-Fi networks for their patrons’ use. The predominant sound in the modern library is the tapping of keys, not the turning of pages.

shallowsbookcover-222x300Taken from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010), chapter 5, “A Medium of the Most General Nature,” p.97 (slightly edited).

I am thankful to report that the dominant sound is our Seminary library is still the turning of pages and the dominant sight that of students reading in their carrels. In the classroom, however, the tapping of keys is prominent (the sound of the professor’s voice is still dominant – 🙂 ).

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