The end of Northwestern’s library

Chris Kirk

Is the Northwestern library’s partnership with Google to digitize its books and put them online inherently self-destructive?

I hope so.

Not because Northwestern’s library looks like a prison in a 1960s vision of a dystopian future.

No. It’s because the library has millions of books, and I have five minutes.

When I’m looking for sources for my essay about a subject, I don’t want to spend a night perusing indexes and scurrying this way and that in a colossal building full of books.

So goodbye, call numbers.

I want to type in a few keywords into a search engine and get a complete text in under two minutes. Wherever I carry my phone or laptop, I want to bring my all my works cited without needing a wheelbarrow full of books.

Some would call this “laziness.” I call it efficiency and convenience.

And as much as I love the musty smell of ancient tomes and the crack! of leather-bound books, I don’t love them enough.

I don’t think most people do, either. If they do, they won’t in 20 years. They’ll be accustomed to Kindles and Nooks and iPhones and iPads.

Only nostalgic bookworms will yearn for the scent of aged paper. The rest of us will be transfixed by the iPhone 40G.

The Northwestern library will either turn into the new new student center or stand as an ancient, vacant crypt for dusty tomes.

The only thing I would truly miss – other than silverfish – is a chance to submerge myself into the utter isolation and silence the library provides. There’s nothing quite like being the only person in a quiet room inside a huge, mostly empty building.

Maybe we’ll keep the building then. But it’s almost time to say “goodbye” to the books.