Three papers given at the 2004 Association for Library & Technical Services President's Program are presented. They explore the challenge of preserving cultural memory--an increasingly complex task in an era with a short attention span that may compromise a long-term perspective.
World Enough, and Time--Libraries As Agents of Cultural Memory: Introduction to the 2004 ALCTS President's Program, June 28, Orlando, Florida
Brian E. C. Schottlaender
I am delighted to welcome you to the 2004 ALCTS President's Program. I want to thank you for making the long trip to this distant, if beautiful venue. I also want to thank my Program Planning Committee, chaired by Wendy Pradt Lougee of the University of Minnesota, and including Abby Smith of the Council on Library and Information Resources, Gay Dannelly of Notre Dame University, Genevieve Owens of the Williamsburg Regional Library, and Jane Treadwell of the University of Illinois at Springfield. Finally, I am very pleased to thank our generous sponsors for today's program. Basic Books has donated three hundred copies of Stewart Brand's The Clock of the Long Now for today's event. Firma Otto Harrassowitz of Wiesbaden, Germany, and their president and CEO, Knut Dorn, have provided financial support. Almost thirty years ago to the day, Knut and his father Richard gave me my start in the information business. I was grateful then, and I am grateful now. Thank you, Knut.
This program has its genesis in my reading a few years ago Stewart Brand's The Clock of the Long Now, and in particular in the chapter contained in that book titled "Burning Libraries." (1) Why, Brand wonders, have people throughout history (from the third century B.C. through the present) burned libraries? In order to wipe clean the slate of history, he concludes, noting that: "Burning libraries is a profound form of murder, or if self-inflicted, suicide. It does to cultural continuity--and hence safety--what destroying species and habitats does to nature's continuity, and hence safety." (2)
Augst, writing in the fall 2001 issue of American Studies, notes:
From the campaign of ancient rhetoreticians to devise "places of
memory," to the modern campaigns to devise a universal standard
bibliography, the Western ideal of the library
has represented not merely a collection of books
gathered for some purpose but also arguments
about the location, form, and power of knowledge
in particular social and historical contexts.
As a symbolic space, a type of collection, a kind
of building, the library gives institutional form
to our collective memory. (3)
Cultural memory provides society with continuity, a mechanism for preserving the knowledge of generations past and present for those to come. Cultural memory resides not only in the products of civilization (such as books or art), but also in myriad communication channels and processes. The Clock of the Long Now depicts the increasingly complex task of preserving cultural memory in an era whose "pathologically short attention span" may compromise a long-term perspective. (4) In a time when information permanence is increasingly in question, how do we shape and sustain the legacy of our culture? And where do libraries fit in this process?
The subtitle of The Clock of the Long Now is "Time and Responsibility," about which Brand, in the book's opening chapter, writes:
Time and Responsibility. What a prime subject
for vapid truisms and gaseous generalities adding
up to the world's most boring sermon. To
spare us both, let me tie this discussion to a
specific device, specific responsibility mechanisms,
and specific problems and cases. The
main problems might be stated [as follows]:
How do we make long-term thinking automatic
and common instead of difficult and
rare? How do we make the taking of long-term
responsibility inevitable? …