Barbara Fister – Inside Higher Ed: “As I was idly poking into library history, I came across something that surprised me. In a 1901 conference proceeding, Melvil Dewey predicted this would happen by 1926:
Books, except a few rarities, will be regarded less as fetiches [sic] to-be protected with a kind of sacred awe, and more for use. When a volume cost as much as a village, this reverence and jealous watchfulness were justified. Now that it can be bought for the price of a single meal, such reverence is a mediaeval survival. Students will cut up books freely for notes and scraps.
Librarians are known to quote Ranganathan’s laws, including “Books are for use” but this is going a bit far. The context for this prediction: there were hot debates going on about whether libraries should allow browsing in open stacks. Those who supported the idea argued that books were no longer so special, rare, and sacred that they had to be protected from the public. Or even, apparently, from vandalism. Dewey, in addition to being an anti-Semite and harasser of women, was a serial entrepreneur fascinated with business and big ideas. He wanted libraries to be efficient, cost-effective, and (though they didn’t use the term back then) a good return on investment. He had plenty to say about how to run libraries – including that bookish people need not apply, but rather libraries should be directed by “men of affairs” who would “throw into their work the same administrative skill that has made possible the successes of the captains of industry and commerce.” The entire essay is in many ways fascinating in that so many of his predictions seem fairly current:
- Access to information matters more than ownership
- New technologies should be harnessed to provide information services (he was really excited about telephones)
- Since it’s fruitless to try to own everything libraries should reduce their collections to items that get lots of use and cooperate with large research libraries to preserve print collections.
- Libraries and universities should become involved in academic publishing
- Libraries are more than just books (he thought libraries should provide illustrations, which could be more informative than texts, and include museums; no mention of 3D printers, though)..”