Librarians and scholars proclaimed "Vivat Liber" -- long live the book -- during Saturday's celebration at Kansas University's Kenneth Spencer Research Library.
In a world where printers are machines and not men, and words are read on monitor screens as well as the page, the computer is a wonderful tool to supplement research, the president of London's Bibliographical Society said.
The scholar, David McKitterick, however, said technology expenditures at academic institutions shouldn't outpace the acquisition and preservation of books and manuscripts for special collections. To simply create a lasting electronic copy and do away with the original destroys a chance to study the book itself, and not just the words it contains.
"In the end, you must come back to the book, to see how it's put together," McKitterick said following his speech at "Vivat Liber: Celebrating Books Librarians and Readers" at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at Kansas University.
Retiring Spencer Librarian Alexandra "Sandy" Mason, the guest of honor at the symposium, said she couldn't agree more with McKitterick's assessment of the state of research libraries, which face increasing financial restraints.
"His comments are very perceptive and great food for thought for every librarian of this nature," said Mason, who is also the head of KU's Department of Special Collections. She is retiring after 42 years at KU.
As for the role of computers in her field, Mason said they can introduce an unlimited number of people to rare collections. Case in point: The current collection on display at the Spencer library, "KSRL: Finders & Keepers," can be viewed on the Internet.
"What we see on the screen is an invitation," she said. "It's like a store window. It shows what is available, but not in great detail."
McKitterick, librarian of Trinity College Library, Cambridge, England, addressed more than 100 librarians, researchers and book lovers at the symposium honoring Mason. The symposium also featured a panel of experts discussing rare book and manuscript collections.
McKitterick lauded the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's mission and its policy of allowing the public to view rare materials. As an undergraduate student at Cambridge, he was allowed to read early editions of Erasmus, Coleridge and Wordsworth, a privilege that has all but vanished for undergraduates today.
Joel Silver, curator of books at The Lilly Library at Indiana University, said technology does a great deal to inform people, but books and manuscripts provide a wealth of knowledge not available via the computer.
"The original objects are completely different and operate on so many different levels," Silver said.
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