Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thoughts on my walk home from work

(It takes me an hour to walk home from work. This is, as best as I can recall, a run-down of my thoughts on my walk home Friday afternoon. It might have been advisable for me to edit and improve these notes, but this is a long weekend and I’m on vacation.)

I am a librarian. I work in the world of libraries.

A large part of what libraries do is collect and provide texts to readers.

The purpose of these texts, by and large, is for readers to derive meaning in the reading of them.

Library, by and large, do not consider themselves in the “meaning” business, but in the text/info/data business, but it is important for library users to be able to derive meaning from the texts we provide them.

Text can be read from a variety of media. For a long time the overwhelmingly predominant media was the codex – aka the book.

Now, to state the absurdly obvious, texts are increasingly encountered/read in a digital environment.

Does the meaning derived from a text read from a codex differ from the meaning derived from the same text read in a digital context? I think it must.

This raises two questions: 1) to what extent is there a difference of meaning? and2) does this difference in meaning really matter?

We can deduce that the context of text delivery matters. A text delivered on a cheap paperback is different than the same text delivered on a finely bound, letter press book is different than a text delivered on a phone screen.

A question that we must once again and always ask is, What are we to preserve? And then a related question is what do we not need to preserve, or what is not worth our resources to preserve?

If texts mean different things delivered on different media do we need to preserve all those different manifestations of the text? The short answer, and I would argue correct answer is no.

Very often the value or significance of the differences in meaning from texts delivered in different media is not worth our resources. Also, the variability and fluidity of texts delivered in a digital environment make the idea of capturing the nuances of each delivery an endless quest.

Texts delivered on different media open up or expand the possible meanings of that text. In our preservation work we should strive not reduce potential meanings, but neither can we presume to preserve the text for all potential meanings.


[Other days when I walk home I think about things like ACDC songs, or the differences between Canadian and American potato chip flavors.)

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