Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why the.effing.librarian loves paper.

Some day I'm going to compile some of this blog into a book.

I don't believe the Internet has the same value as printed matter. One click, and all of the Internets can just dissassemble into random packets, or worse, some supervillain might devise a way to reassemble all of our data, baby pictures, history reports, bibliographies, Netflix queues, bookmarks, mp3s, into a gigantic image of Steve Jobs's ass and project it onto the moon.

So I trust paper. I don't agree with its misuse, all that crap I need to shred that people mail to me with all of my personal information on it, but that's not the paper's fault. That's the ink, that bastard. Ink is always giving up my secrets. Paper is just the innocent pawn to that manipulator.

Anyway, here is some old crap republished. When I write stuff like this, I can almost believe that it might be good enough to put into a book. Almost.

Yes, paper takes space and needs to be stored properly, but so do all the computers that need to be saved to access all this old data in all the variety of formats that each new idiot decides is the optimal preservation medium.

And because of all this indecision, I have no faith that we will ever save anything.

When a future Ken Burns does his PBS special on life in the early 21st Century, he won't have any source material other than some text message retrieved from a 12-year-old's battered cell phone:
()/\/\‡6 ¿00 Þ\/\//\/I) /\/()()3 I()I

And we will be glad we have that (the message is: "omfg u pwnd n00b lol," for the less l33t of us, or "you nerd"for my mom).

During the Civil War, their 12-year-old boys wrote with pen and ink:
It is with an infinite sadness that the news of your recent illness has reached my ears. Yet President Lincoln's latest speech has strengthened our resolve to weather this latest unpleasantness of battle with confidence and stout brotherhood. The cherry blossoms are in bloom and I have been inspired to knit a colorful eye patch for my recent wound.

We have these letters (even fake ones that I just made up) because people wrote stuff down on paper. If something is meant to be preserved, then preserve it. On something stable, tangible, readable.

Publishers print books; librarians buy books; libraries store books. If people use the books, the librarians won't throw them away.

This is how we decide what data are important. As obsolete as you want to try to convince me it is, paper, and the books made from it, is still more useful than a yottabyte of formless digital crap. And until these bright minds can agree on how to preserve this crap, libraries will continue to do what they always do, collect and preserve.

Maybe you should ask a librarian.