I’m in love with the library. Absolutely in love. Firstly, it’s huge. Incredibly huge. Thousands of books line the shelves: some very old, some new, some very worn, some tiny, some huge. I’ve spent hours just walking the aisles and reading the book titles. It’s great.
But one day, as I walked the steps and paced the poorly lit, musty backrooms, letting my curiosity be awed by the depth and the magnificence, I realized something somewhat profound: this library is tiny. Tiny, at least, in comparison to the incredible amount of information I’ve been carrying in my pocket since 2007. Even if I accepted that this was one of the largest (university) libraries in Iowa, the amount of raw knowledge I was glancing over was minuscule when I considered that I’ve had access to exponentially more information since I was 6 — without putting on pants.
Herein lied a dilemma I’ve been contemplating for the past few weeks: why does this tiny library seem so magnificent? Why do I delight in the intellectual curiosities contained therein when I don’t spend a second aweing after double-clicking Chrome.app?
I’ve entertained several hypotheses — from the architecture (it is a beautiful library), to the context (it’s a physical store of knowledge, not digital, and requires some amount of intention to experience) to the “smell of books” (old issues of Time are pretty awesome). None of them felt quite right.
What I’ve realized is that the library is wonderful not in spite of its scarcity but because of it. Every book in the library has been specifically acquired by one process or another. The library is a filtered store of knowledge.
As a millennial, I’ve lived my entire life in a world of media abundance. I’ve essentially never lived a day where the information I want isn’t readily available. The library — in spite of its limits — is the antithesis of this media abundance. Of course, even within the barriers of the library, there is an enormous spectrum of information and knowledge. But the process of turning ideas into words and words into books and putting books into libraries is an expensive procedure — expensive enough, anyhow, that I can be assured that any book in any shelf in any floor of the library is bound to be interesting and fascinating. It’s the curation that matters, not the abundance.
I believe these patterns can be emulated digitally. And I think we’re already figuring this out. There are many considerations, of course; most solutions thus far have either been democratic (how does Reddit know what I like?) or interest-based — while I’m unlikely to pick up a copy of the Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy, I’m highly likely to examine a book about Edwin Hubble or a theses published by my astronomy professor, and I’ve yet to teach a computer to understand the difference.
In any case, I’m delighted that I have already found a similar, curious mix of serendipity, duration, and eclecticity I’ve found roaming the halls of the library emerging on Medium. This is one of the reasons I’ve loved Medium from the beginning. I think this may be the start of something very interesting. And it’s one of the reasons I’m excited to start using it more often. Hello, world.
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