The medium of story is ever evolving, but not its essence. Living in New York is a great opportunity to go to as many libraries as possible. And I do. While some lament our descent into ‘the end of literature,’ paper storytelling is not dead or dying. Or is it? Sure, television, video games and mixed media crank out the skeleton of the tale in delicious ways, but the end of books? In the mustiest and best places I know?
Forecasts predict that within 10 to 15 years the largest “publishers” in the world will be Google, Amazon and Apple. In August of 2010, Google annonunced its intention to scan all known books (130m) by the end of the decade. The change is coming clearly, but what about a different kind of transformation. Didn’t they say Penguin paperbacks would destroy the print industry in 1939? That the printing press would overthrow Catholicism after 1440? That home videos would destroy cinema? Libraries may change in character; they may even transform into habitats for multiplayer online role-playing games. But they won’t disappear surely? As Carolyn Guyer and Martha Petry put it in the opening to their hypertext fiction “Izme Pass,” which was published on a disk included in the spring 1991 issue of the magazine Writing on the Edge:
“This is a new kind of fiction, and a new kind of reading. The form of the text is rhythmic, looping on itself in patterns and layers that gradually accrete meaning, just as the passage of time and events does in one’s lifetime. Trying the textlinks embedded within the work will bring the narrative together in new configurations, fluid constellations formed by the path of your interest. The difference between reading hyperfiction and reading traditional printed fiction may be the difference between sailing the islands and standing on the dock watching the sea. One is not necessarily better than the other.”
As innate weavers of the most spectacular yarns, we’re come up with all these other ways to try to keep the library open. Co-working spaces! Media labs. Art galleries? I still think of books as highly exotic and largely unknown in the alleyways of our mind. Our inborn thirst for narrative means that story — its power, purpose and relevance — will endure as long as the human animal does. Let’s do everything in our power so that it, and the library, are never rendered obsolete.