navigating the information landscape

Robert Darnton has, again, written a thoughtful account on “Google and the Future of Books” in the February 12, 2009 issue of the New York Review of Books. Prompted by Google’s recent settlement with the authors and publishers suing it for copyright violation in its vast digitization project, Darton wonders, “How can we navigate through the information landscape that is only beginning to come into view?” For Darnton, the key forward is, unsurprising, through the Enlightenment, both in its ideal Republic of Letters and in its less democratic pratice of who had access to that Republic. As Darnton argues, the high ideals of the Enlightenment turned, in time, into the professionalization of knowledge and subsequently degraded to our current undemocratic world in which scholarly journals are produced through the free labor of professors and sold to libraries at insanely high prices. That’s an information landscape through which we cannot continue…

the Holocaust and libraries

A friend shared a recent article with me from Der Spiegel that touches directly on the subject of books and owners and their emotional and historical connections. The piece, “Retracing the Nazi Book Theft,” examines the legacy of the Holocaust for German libraries: thousands of books that were stolen from Jewish owners and that remain in the collections of German libraries. This photo (from the article) is of Detlaf Bockenkamm, a curator at Berlin’s Central and State Library who been tracing the former owners of books stolen by the Nazis. Here he is standing with some of those books, part of the Accession J section, consisting of more than 1000 books acquired by the Nazis “from the private libraries of evacuated Jews” and then integrated into the Library’s collection. Just as paintings were systematically taken and claimed by the Nazis, so too were books and other cultural and valuable items….