New Roles for Libraries

Since the Library of Alexandria, and notoriously there, the main task for libraries was to collect as many book as possible in order to show the wealth, literary commitment and the political influence of a Hellenistic sovereign. Soon this huge amount of rolls became however difficult to handle and methods for storage and cataloging had to be found. Otherwise the rolls or the texts they contained were lost again as soon as they entered the library.

In our modern age of digitization, this problem remains relevant and it could become the major task for librarians, as suggests Greg Crane in a paper given at the APA in Chicago. In fact, in future the role of the libraries could shift from the one of acquiring and collecting books, journal and texts to the one of exporting the texts already in their institutions and making them available to a readership, which will no longer come to them but read the sources from their homes through their computer.

To come back to the comparison with the Alexandrian library, the community of scholars living in the buildings of the Library seems, in this modern perspective, also a reality that may disappear. The major question would then also switch from the one asking who is allowed to enter an institution in order to consult books, to the one of who the institution is able to reach.

For Greg Crane’s paper, see “Planning a Digital Library for Classics from Image Books” (Gregory Crane, Tufts University) at The Stoa Consortium

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