The Deforestation of Knowledge
It used to be the smell that would first indicate your location. Sweet vanillin, with an echo of storytelling and a twist of comfort. Browse the shelves and you would find the history of humankind, with all its eccentric foibles proclaimed loudly in titles and blurbs. Look closer and you would see the transformation of understandings, as we grappled with ideas and concepts. There would be books to anger you, to make you sob, and books to make you laugh. Some you would borrow, to never read. Sometimes you would borrow the same book over and over and over. From your armchair you could find yourself on Pacific beaches warring with European invaders, from a sandy beach you might be transported to the bedside of a mother and her newborn.
The joy of the book can never diminish. The joy of the library is being casually eroded. Every visit reveals more empty shelves, larger open spaces, and the pervasive scent of an electronics shop. The university library, a repository of humankind’s story, is being ravaged in the name of study space and powerpoints. Boxes line the paths between the emptying shelves, ignominiously filled and hustled out of the library, like some embarrassing old heirloom hidden away to eventually be forgotten.
Shelves of books are given signs saying ‘Give Away’, to be taken out of public circulation and tucked into a private collection. Discussions you’ll never find on Wikipedia are stolen from sight, the subtleties of perspective disappear into irretrievable obscurity.
Printed text is slowly disappearing from our library, and with it goes a celebration of diversity. It becomes harder to happen upon an original idea, and easier to go with the set texts. Browsing is discouraged, and a pencilled debate in the margins becomes impossible. The shelves are stripped bare, as knowledge is rationalised and compartmentalised. The community of the library is being divided by desk partitions.