08 October 2015

Robert Darnton speaks at LAC

Wednesday's presentation in the Wallot-Sylvestre seminar series “Libraries, Books, and the Digital Future” was by Robert Darnton, a highly respected American cultural historian, academic librarian and Rhodes scholar with a Ph.D. (D. Phil.) in history from Oxford in 1964. His academic specialisation in 18th-century France meant he was comfortable responding to questions in French.

Most of the talk was about the Digital Public Library of America in which he has been involved since its inception. He started the presentation by speaking of the unsteady rise of libraries, starting with the library at Alexandria which was more a storehouse with limited access for scholars, though old university libraries with physical deterrents to keep out "undesirables" to today with considerable open public access on the internet.

On new technology he commented that one medium (digital) does not displace the other (print). Recent statistics show some rebound in printed book sales, perhaps not reflected in sales at local bookstores, and that for three hundred years after the printing press it was still more profitable to hand copy small run books rather than print them.

In speaking on the Digital Public Library of America he heaped praise on the participation of public libraries commenting that their community service is under appreciated. One can only hope that the Ottawa Public Library, which is not only not a leader, it isn't even a follower when it come to digitization, will get on board.

The whole event was exceptionally well organised which goes along with a markedly more positive atmosphere at LAC.

Videos and transcripts of the presentation will be available on the LAC website at some future date. Prior Wallot-Sylvestre seminars available are by David Fricker and David S. Ferriero.

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