Monday, June 20, 2005

A Canon Shot

Now, here's a thoughtful essay, titled, Beyond Gatekeeping: Publishing in an Era of Information Overload, from The Book and The Computer. The author, Jenny Lee, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne, says this towards the end of her piece:

To build and sustain new readerships, the book industry needs to engage with a younger, media-savvy generation for whom books are only one element in the media panoply. It will not achieve this kind of engagement by adopting a reactive, self-regarding stance.

To cite just one example of such a stance, for decades now the publishing community (including authors and literary journalists as well as publishers and editors) has been awash with complaints about the "ignorance" of the younger generation. If we take a broader view of the processes of cultural change, it becomes clear that this complaint is driven by an unreflective attachment to a limited canon of book-centered knowledge, a canon that has increasingly lost its purchase in the intellectual sphere as well as in the broader culture.

I wonder if some of the criticism leveled at the Google digitization of library content is "driven by an unreflective attachment to a limited canon of book-centered knowledge?"

Just very well might be.

1 comment:

Scott Condon said...

The emphasis of this article is on book production. It clearly is not coming from the perspective of readers, who are happy to wander the bookstacks of bookstores and libraries, and who cannot seem to get enough of books. Perhaps it comes as a suprise that readers recognize and value "the mystique of the book", despite its "unnaturalness", and with or without its "fiction of unitary authorship".

I would be deeply surprised to find anyone working in the library field today who is unaware that "books are only one element in the media panoply". But as Jenny Lee acknowledges, books are a unique format, and they can do things for readers that other information sources cannot. I am especially puzzled how a "book industry" that "needs to engage with a younger, media-savvy generation" intends to attract readers to books if it is intent on tearing down the very thing it produces.