Books are so durable that I’ve been enjoying dipping into tomes that we’ve owned for decades. Some of them were owned by others for decades before us. And there are some in this house that were printed decades before we were even born. Perhaps you too enjoy signs of the use of the thoughts among margin notes that often match the hand writing of names of former owners inscribed inside the often sun-faded covers. And wonder who they were?
Thoughts are made durable by books. I’ve been benefitting from the ideas stored on paper all of my life. Few books are printed alone, so even if I lose a book, there are likely to be other copies somewhere. I even wrote about acquiring A Journey Through India while journeying through Ireland at 120 km per hour.
While some preserved thoughts may become outdated, once put into the custody of a book, ideas are rarely lost. Presence in book form is generally an indication of quality by way of editorial and peer review. And so it is safe to be give yourself over to the inspiration of books that will safely transport you in space and time.
I recently went looking for a book review on a science topic close to my heart. An online search surprised and completely distracted me. The search returned a link to a website that was unavailable. A banner at the top of the page helpfully suggested I use the Wayback Machine. And I did and I found many ways back to the book review I was looking for. Written in 1999, it had been expired a few years later. So it was that I read a version of the online review that was archived in 2002. The online review was only ever digital. And digital doesn’t mean eternal. Even in my working life, corporate retention policies meant that most of our digital documents were assigned a seven year lifetime.
In an age of morphing and expiring digital content, print libraries remain hugely important to global society. They store books that hold the ideas, know-how, histories, love, science, philosophy and whatever else that makes-up the whole human experience. But libraries across the world have taken on other functions well beyond book lending. One major area of value is that libraries are used to connect people with services and assistance. They have become social hubs if not front line institutions.
There’s a wikipedia page that records book burning incidents and the book burners. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that the section for the 21st century is already quite well populated. Indeed, if ever you doubted the power and value of books, and you have electricity and a device with a web browser, and access to the hist server in whatever country that still allows such information to be stored or viewed and transmitted and edited and corrected … I wish we could visit The Skelligs like we did this day in 2004.