Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Posted by lpearle on 5 December 2010

Last week a colleague invited me to an event: her husband had created a robot orchestra, and the premier was today.  I told her I was otherwise engaged, and wished him luck.

Engaged how?  This was my week to be Greeter at Amawalk Meeting.  In some Meetings (like Brooklyn, my first Meeting), there are enough people to divide the duties: there are Greeters, those responsible for ‘setting’ Meeting, others who oversee Social Hour, etc..  Not at Amawalk, where we’re so small that if it’s your week, you do it all.  In winter, there is the additional responsibility for lighting to stoves and warming the building; in darkest winter lighting the paraffin lamps will be added to the routine.  The building dates to 1831 and has no electricity (or plumbing, although there is a four-seater in a back room), so I got there at 8:30 to start the fires that would keep us warm from 10:30 through noon-ish.

As I carefully laid the newspaper and kindling and selected what I hoped were the driest logs, I reflected on the difference between the event I couldn’t attend and this one.  A robot orchestra would completely puzzle and perplex the founders of our Meeting, and the idea of sitting in silence in such an old-fashioned space puzzles and perplexes many of my F/friends.  My thoughts also drifted to the role of technology in schools and in our lives, and how we often turn to the Neat! New! Exciting! or run hurriedly away from it.  For example…

Having gone to school in a pre-computer era, I would hate to go back to the days of laboriously copying out – in longhand – passages from books (because I couldn’t copy everything needed), writing – again in longhand – the drafts, cutting and pasting paragraphs so that the whole made sense, measuring how far up the page I needed to stop to include footnotes, etc. while writing papers.  Yet my adoption of computers wasn’t immediate, and it took some time before I could compose fluidly at the keyboard.  That whole process seems in some ways as old-fashioned as what I did this morning.

Next week I’m going to attend a concert given by a string quartet, one that prides itself on updating the repertoire to include Radiohead and Led Zeppelin.  Traditionalists might be appalled by this, and even more so by robotic strings playing.  Yet it feels right when I sit there, letting the music take my thoughts to new places.

What does all this mean?  As I prepare to present at three conferences in 2011, I’m thinking about eBooks and other electronic resources as additions to our current collections rather than replacements for, or something to be afraid of.  I’m also thinking about how a container may change our opinion of context, and how content in one container can change radically from content in another.  Today, as I thought about the two extremes, I was reminded yet again that new is not necessarily evil, but neither is retaining the past.


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