First...A little context.
This is the first issue of MEME to come out from its new home, a listserver at St. John's University. In the past ten days or so, MEME went from about 400 subscribers to 1400, a number I never could have managed on my own. Last Friday evening I was at the post office when a couple of mail-room workers from Jupiter Communications (a local high-tech consulting firm, I think) came in with a mass mailing -- bales and bales of pre-stamped manila envelopes in big boxes. It gave me a fleeting sense of what it would be like to actually mail MEME to 1400 people on paper. Apart from bankrupting me, it would also break my back. But the real significance of something like MEME and other Internet-based newsletters (as we all know) is that, for the first time, it is as easy to communicate with one person as with 1,400 or 14,000 or 14 whatever. In this new world of self-publishers/distributors/marketers and everything else, we can enjoy the freedom to create ideas without the commercial pressures of traditional media. But, lost in this celebration of intellectual freedom, is a sorry fact. There is one loser in this digital age. No, not the traditional publisher. The big loser is the public library and, if we don't start paying attention to the library's fate, you and I. So this MEME is dedicated to....
THE FUTURE OF LIBRARIES
"I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people, because they give nothing for nothing...They reach the aspiring and open to these chief treasures of the world -- those stored up in books".
Andrew Carnegie, 1900
"There is not a person in this room who would argue against the public library. They are good for our children, they are good for the country, they are good for our neighborhoods. But why does a public library work? It works because it is based 100% on atoms. When you borrow that book the shelf is then empty. Now, we take the library made of atoms and we convert it to bits. What happens? Two things. First we don't have to take our atoms down to the library anymore. But more importantly, when you borrow a bit, there is always a bit left. So bingo! You now have 20 million people who can borrow that same bit, and just by changing the atoms into bits you violate copyright law, and in countries without copyright law, you violate a sense of intellectual property."
Nicholas Negroponte, 1995
"The delivery of information to the researchers' desktops --wherever and whenever they need it -- from digital library resources. This is the essence of the Library without Walls."
Rick Luce, Library Without Walls Project Leader, Los Alomos National Laboratory, 1994.
Remember the old days?
In the 13th century, monks reproduced information by hand in a room called the scriptorum. Each book, a process of many years of labor, then went into the monastic libraries where they were chained to the shelves to guard against theft -- or unauthorized copying. In the 15th century, with the invention of the printing press, books lost their chains, and monasteries lost their monopoly on information. But it took several hundred years before libraries became what many take for granted today: public institutions which guarantee any citizen access to information without charge. In the 19th century, the United S