Marshall McLuhan said that the medium is the message. Wrong. The
message is the message and it has been since the beginning of time.
It's the medium that has changed.
This is National Library Week, a good time to think about the message
and the almost unbelievable changes in the medium.
The message is human knowledge. Whatever the non-human creatures of the
world may or may not know, it is the humans who are able to record and
preserve said knowledge.
The earliest known library was a collection of clay tablets in Babylon
in the 21st century B . C. The most famous ancient library of
Alexandria fulfilled Alexander's dream of great library which would
gather the cultures and civilizations of the whole world in the 5th
century B. C.
In our own country, also, there are a couple of ancient libraries.
Newspaper Rock in Utah is a massive stone on which Native Americans have
etched records of perhaps 2,000 years of human activity. People were
recording events for someone else to read. Terry Pickens, a library
director in a somewhat later period, calls it an ancient version of
leaving notes on the refrigerator door. But passing information along
from the author to the reader is what we do in a library too.
A similar stone is El Morro in eastern New Mexico, that was used as a
historical record and bulletin board by early Spanish explorers. The
oldest and most famous inscription reads (translated from the Spanish)
"Passed by here the Governor Don Juan de Oņate from the discovery of the
Sea of the South on the 16th of April, 1605." He might have added,
"Meet me on the beach in two years."
Eventually came the arrival of paper and then Guttenberg's invention of
the movable printing press in the 15th century -- and then THE BOOK
The first public library in the United States was opened in Salisbury,
Connecticut, in 1803.
Today' there is a new medium -- the Internet, the World Wide Web. We
now have at our fingertips in our libraries and in our homes heretofore
undreamed of sources of information from around the world, available at
the touch of a computer key.
From carvings on stone to the wonders of the computer -- the history of
the medium -- so far. Who knows what is yet ahead?
But whatever it is, libraries will be here to keep track of it all.
They will continue to increase their book collections and other
extensive print materials, give service to their patrons and the
community, and maintain and expand access to the Internet.
There is no other American institution that exists solely to make
information and literature available to everyone. And that means
everyone. -- rich or poor, Ph. D. candidate or curious pre-schooler, the
well read or functionally illiterate, the serious reader or the one
looking for entertainment -- all are welcome at the library.
The new medium, the Internet is big, unorganized and sometimes hard to
use for those who are not computer literate. Although I have a
computer, and use the Net constantly for various kinds of research, the
Library still provides me with services I can't afford. From my house I
can access the library's webset and have immediate access to a full text
database with $40,000 worth of magazines, encyclopedias and newspapers.
Unfortunately, libraries still have to contend with those who want only
their own ideas made available to others. I'm fairly sure Alexander did
not have to cope with censors. If he had, he probably would have had
them killed and broken up their tablets and paved the road with them.
We are well past that point, but the Internet is so huge and wide open
that trying to restrict its use is a little like herding cats.
Whatever its flaws, the good far outweighs the bad. So while courts
wrestle with the question of whether libraries should filter the
Internet, librarians are already working out the best solutions.
The message is stored in our libraries. The medium has gone from cave
walls to cyberspace. Oh yes, this is Library Week.