From my diary

A useful trip to Cambridge this morning, and I got several articles in photocopied form about the fragments of Philip of Side.  Now to read them!

Cambridge was beautiful in the sunshine.  In the library there were few people, although since I arrived at 9:15 I suspect many were yet abed.  The characteristic smell of books greeted me as ever, and I went to look for the volumes I needed.

One of the items I had to get was from a 1906 French periodical.  I’m so used to getting these in PDF form, hundreds of pages, that it was a bit of a shock to pull down this very thick, very heavy volume, half-leather, faded pages, and realise that this was the physical form of those little black-and-white PDF’s.  Of course I knew intellectually that this was the case — but evidently I had begun to forget.

The university library has always seemed to me a massive thing, long-lived.  Yet I found that it had not purchased the latest editions of some of the Griechische Christliche Schriftsteller series; and somehow the great walls and ceilings and floor upon floor of books seemed less substantial, losing its solidity, slightly immaterial. 

Because, of course, who needs all these shelves any more?  All we need are good PDF’s. 

Indeed the books are harder to search!  Give me a directory full of PDF’s and I can make sure they are OCR’d and search the lot easily.  A similar row of books is impossible to look through.

On the way out, I was stopped and my bag searched thoroughly, as I waited, grey hair and shirt and tie.  My PDF collection never treats me like a thief.  Somehow this too seemed incongruous, not quite real — for what need will there be for it, when libraries start to dispose of all that paper?

In the town I saw many changes.  Borders bookshop had gone.  Galloway and Porter — remaindered academic books — was holding a closing-down sale.  Heffers, which sells textbooks to students, seemed to have little on its shelves.  Marks of the recession were in most streets, and it didn’t quite seem the place I visited last time I was there.  Indeed I walked up and down the town for half an hour, but saw nothing I wanted.  I noticed that there was nowhere to sit and have a glass of coke and a roll.  In the end I headed back, across the river and along the beautifully gardened and scented walkway to the library.

“All things are fleeting” … nothing remains the same forever, except God.

3 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. Galloway & Porter closing down?!!! It’s been a while since I haven’t been in Cambridge but that really makes me be dumbstruck.

  2. 2010:
    Bookshops closing down, second hand books shops closing down, second hand books begin to loose their value – after all, you can find their content on the web so who would pay to own a copy, many libraries begin to dispose of their paper books
    2020:
    Few remaining bookshops are fun places to drink expensive coffee while reading a popular book – probably not in paper form, the few remaining serious libraries are having a hard time justifying to the administration why they should spend money on maintaining a collection of paper books that nobody actually uses – since it is so much easier to search the online versions from the comfort of your own home or office, most library collections pulped
    2030:
    Download a book from Google – $35
    Download a book from British Library Online – $35
    Try to view the physical book (perhaps a dozen or so copies of that book left in the word) – priceless. Books locked away in offsite climate controlled deposits.

    The only way to escape this within-a-generation situation is if the online version of the books are stored by not-for-profits. Google is a for-profit, one day we will wake up to find they are nolonger giving free access.

    Matthew Hamilton

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