The International Journal of the Book has just started a blog, presumably if biblical scholars who blog are bibliobloggers this must be a biblionblog… Their first post is about the three libraries of Alexandria.
After comparing the goals of the ancient Great Library of Alexandria with those of the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina the post contrasts the technologies used.
The library also contains an Internet center, specialized sections for audio-visual and electronic materials, microforms and rare books, as well as a Planetarium, study rooms, reading halls, museums, and spaces for conferences and art galleries.
The post concludes:
Is this a story of destruction and rebirth, of transformation and technological progress, relating the legendary past, the present and the changing future? Certainly, it is. But it also suggests that irrespective of its form, content, reading or access techniques, the role of the library was, is and will remain the same, i.e. that of a radiating repository for universal knowledge.
My conclusion is different, technology makes a great difference. The ancient library (until the late 20th century in fact) was localised, and only one person at a time could consult each “book”. So one had to visit Alexandria to consult it’s riches. The digital library (which the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina includes) can be anywhere and everywhere. It can even through Book Mobiles (go to http://www.bibalex.org/english/initiatives/mybook.htm and scroll down) go to the poor and deprived. Print began a process of democratising books. That, in part, is how Luther could run rings round the pope and the emperor. But digitisation takes this process to a new level.
As long as “books” remain physical objects they remain sources of sensual pleasure for rich (or at least comfortably provided) readers. Once they are digital there is more chance that they can be liberated by the less wealthy. The digital divide is potentially a temporary aberration. (How many people could afford a copy of the first edition of Gutenberg’s Bible?