Libraries Under Siege
Robert Kuttner’s essay “In Defense of Books” (Spring 2006) comes at a critical juncture. Indeed, there are few human activities more visceral or intimate than reading a book. And while e-mail may be “evil,” it is a necessary oneeven in the publishing business. It will be, as Kuttner writes, our generation’s (the aging baby-boomers’) duty to carry forward and convey the intense pleasure and knowledge that holding a book and turning its pages instills. While on the editorial staff of the trade department at HarperCollins in the early 1990s, those of us charged with vetting the mounting pile of unsolicited manuscripts became alarmed with the alacrity and off-handed nature of the work reaching us. Our senior editor reasoned “it’s because there are so many people out there tap-tapping away on their computers.” Certainly the computer has changed how we write, and it will continue to do so. Sven Birkerts’ excellent The Gutenberg Elegies goes into these very issues in great detail, as does Nicholas Negroponte’s Being Digital, for the opposing point of view. What is clear is that the discussion should never disappear, that we teach our children the benefits and distinctions of all possible avenues of research and the joys of haunting the stacks of a good library.
Bronwen Crothers ’77
Mr. Kuttner apparently does not consider a library as a storage of information, but as a collection of printed paper. When the first inexpensive books were printed with movable type, it probably created violent reactions among the scribes in the monasteries. The Internet was created to allow communication between scientists in case of an atomic war. It has now been adapted to permit dissemination of information through services such as Google. Most recreational readers obtain their material from paperbacks, which are probably not worth saving in a library. The exchange of technical information is served by publications that may be printed, but usually are also available on the Internet. During my 35 years in the computer business, I wrote a lot of technical manuals, only to discover that they were mostly ignored by the technicians and programmers for whom they were intended. Most people would rather obtain technical information from friends and co-workers. Let us not get sentimental about books, and instead consider how to advance the dissemination and storage of information in the best way possible.
Fritz B. Volbach ’50
San Francisco, Calif.
Holder of the first degree
on the fine work and high quality of the alumni magazine. Next let me point out a factual error in the spring issue. The blurb on the recently elected alumni trustee, Diane Yu ’73, states that she was the first student to graduate with an interdisciplinary major in East Asian studies. Actually, I was the first student to create and graduate with an East Asian studies major in 1969!
Jamie Stiller ’69
Speak before thinking
I was very sad to read of the death of Professor Vinio Rossi. He was one of the few Oberlin professors who knew me by name and the only one to invite my class to his home for dinner. I had Signore Rossi for Italian, and my wife, Hilary (Manhart ’87), had Monsieur Rossi for French. We both appreciated his gruff, good humor. Professor Rossi believed that language students got into trouble by thinking too much, and should instead say the first thing that comes into their headsthus, his constant refrain of “Doooon’t think!” Whenever I feel that Hilary is ruminating excessively over something, I start to tell her “Doooon’t.” And she finishes by saying “think!” Professor Rossi can still make us laugh after all these years.
Daniel Stewart ’87
El Prado, N.M.
I read with interest the proposal to restore the Wright fountain on the grounds of the Allen Art Museum (Winter 2005-06, Letters). Why did the College allow this structure to deteriorate? If this edifice has both historical and architectural significance, why doesn’t the College pay the repair costs? At the least, the College should match alumni donations “dollar for dollar.” Oberlin should maintain all important structures on its campus!
Matthew Collings ’66
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