Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nil novi sub sole!

As special collections librarians everywhere grapple with the technological sea-change in our profession, Lionel Casson’s Libraries in the Ancient World (Yale 2001) reminds us that there is indeed nothing new under the sun. In his book, Casson explains about the transition from roll to codex. The format change affected shelving, paging, cataloging, and even reading. With the advent of the codex, readers no longer needed two hands to roll and unroll the text. They now had one hand free to make notes, mark pages, and easily flip back and forth. It must have felt so liberating. I've felt the same way since I got my iPhone!

Now, here we are in the midst of another tectonic shift. We are changing the way we find, use, and store our information - with much of the action happening in the world of special collections. Thanks to technology, we now have so many more ways to connect with our library users and the world at large. And just as ancient libraries did during the long and gradual transition from roll to codex, we are dealing with multiple formats at one time, and will be for quite some time. It's daunting and challenging, but it sure is fun.

Hat tip to my history buddy Stephen O'Neill for suggesting Casson's book to me. I recommend it.

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