Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thinning a Library

This Inside Higher Ed piece about a professor chucking most of his books is interesting, in part because it frequently mentions how digital editions and Google Books have made material books less necessary, for reference purposes anyway. (The pleasure-angle of being surrounded by books is largely absent.) All this thinking about the usefulness (or not) of books brings the professor to a rather depressing conclusion about The Academic Monograph:

“The exercise,” he wrote, “has confirmed concretely what had hitherto been an abstract conviction: it’s a rare monograph that’s actually worth a book. You can digest the idea, pick out a few key pieces of evidence, decide whether or not it really changes your mind about an overall interpretation, and then you’re really, sadly, done with it. Scarcely ever will you revisit it — scarcely ever will it repay you to revisit it, except to check a citation maybe — unlike a good essay or synthesis, which you can always come back to for insights.”

The "good essay" point does seem to say something for the much-maligned critical anthology, however.


Blogger Michael E. said...

For the moment, I'll bite my tongue on the question of monographs, but I can't help but saying that this article suggests a tantalizing possibility. If scholars really are liquidating their libraries, there will be a golden moment when good used books will be cheap and plentiful. I wish that I had been savvy enough to start collecting LPs around 1990. People who did that now have astonishing collections.

10:27 AM  

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