Elegy to a medical library

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This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, June 2017

  • Sherry Turkle http://alonetogetherbook.com/ & http://inflection.com/slope/culture-10-lessons-from-wisdom-20-a-twitter-sized-ethnography.html
  • A medical library offers physicians resources that are not available via a device, handheld or otherwise http://ow.ly/kCjws (a cabinet of curiosities)
  • What we face is not the loss of books but the loss of a world. As in Alexandria after Aristotle’s time, or the universities and monasteries of the early Renaissance, or the cluttered-up research libraries of the nineteenth century, the Word shifts again in its modes, tending more and more to dwell in pixels and bit instead of paper and ink. It seems to disappear thereby, as is must have for the ancient Peripatetics, who considered writing a spectral shibboleth of living speech; or the princely collectors of manuscripts in the Renaissance, who saw the newly recovered world of antiquity endangered by the brute force of the press; or the lovers of handmade books in the early nineteenth century, to whom the penny dreadful represented the final dilution of the power of literature. And yet, the very fact that the library has endured these cycles seems to offer hope. In its custody of books and the words they contain, the library has confronted and tamed technology, the forces of change, and the power of princes time and time again.
  • Medical librarians are questioning not just their roles in health care but also the roles of their libraries in storing the information that allows them to actualize those roles; they find themselves in a ruptured universe fighting a Promethean impulse to save print libraries while more information is delivered to physicians online, via mobiles, on the go, 24/7
  • Medical librarians are not mere custodians or even functionaries of their health organizations; they should aim to be knowledgeable advisors (scholars even) to health professionals, a critical link in the translation of medical evidence into the clinic and the daily practice of the working clinician
  • In the chaotic world of 2013, the medical librarian's role is to solve intractable information problems, and overload, and to reassure the clinician that relevant literature has been found (and that no evidence has thus been missed); from age to age, medical libraries aim to grow and change, flourish and disappear, blossom and contract and yet there is always a search (a chasing after) the library of Alexandria haunting by its idealism and its role as a conveyor of knowledge and culture, with all of the attendant answers to human health's imponderable problems
  • Here in the stacks, the library may seem the place books go when they die. In their totality, they disappear amid their own splendid mystifications. From age to age, libraries grow and change, flourish and disappear, blossom and contract–and yet through them all we’re chasing after Alexandria, seeking a respite on Parnassus, haunted by the myths of knowledge and of wholeness that books spawn when massed in their millions. The divine irony that Borges discovered while groping his way through the stacks strikes the sighted librarian just as powerfully: preserving themselves, the books elude us. And yet it’s this that inspires more books, goading us to finish them, to complete the set, to add another book to the collection. Someone needs to set that to music.
  • On the survival and destruction of knowledge, from Alexandria to the Internet. Through the ages, libraries have not only accumulated and preserved but also shaped, inspired and obliterated knowledge. Matthew Battles, a rare books librarian and gifted narrator, takes us on a spirited foray from Boston to Baghdad, from classical scriptoria to medieval monasteries, from the Vatican to the British Library, from socialist reading rooms and rural home libraries to the Information Age. In his book, he reveals how libraries are built and how they are destroyed, from decaying great libraries in Alexandria to scroll burnings in ancient China to the destruction of Aztec books by the Spanish. In our own time, the burning of libraries in Europe and Bosnia.

Libraries as cybercafes

  • Let library administrators close and dismantle our libraries turning them into information commons and internet cafes, representing everything and standing for nothing. It will save you money to bin the university's collection of obstetrics and gynecology books.

Anxious medical librarians

  • If medical librarians seem anxious these days, can you blame them? They’re worried about the future of their libraries. As universities and medical schools grapple with cuts to budgets, medical libraries look expendable. In an age of iPads and iPhones, in any case, print books are musty and dusty. And really without their books, who needs librarians anyway? The truth is that we’ve never needed them more. Every day in hospitals across Canada, librarians do important jobs not strictly related to library science. Librarians make it possible to navigate the medical bibliography.
  • Medical librarians do the brute-force work of organization: bar-coding acquisitions; putting books on shelves; scanning and digitizing paper holdings; entering items into databases, where searches reveal them.
  • Handed difficult questions, librarians rifle through the information jungle, sorting out the mess, and producing the answer you need and the one you wanted. But great librarians do something more; they help you ask sharper questions, and find answers you didn’t know you needed. Maybe print will disappear but we still need libraries because we’ll need librarians.


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