“The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well” Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin wrote The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in 1936. The rapid shift toward dynamic, industrialized modernity created a pervasive anxiety among artists and art lovers. Could art be replaced by machines? New photographic technology became the catalyst, carrying fears surrounding visual art and, to some extent, perceptions of reality in of itself. Arguing that, in order for it to remain relevant, there needed to be a shift in how to understand art in a modern context. The themes of authenticity, tradition, ritual, value, mass production and proliferation of art are woven throughout the essay.
It is not surprising that similar conversations are occurring now surrounding the migration of the library’s print collections to digital platforms. Incorporating technology, “the machine,” into the library space is often viewed as being disruptive, inauthentic and contrary to the original intention of the 20th century library.
We are finding that these same themes brought forth by Benjamin in 1936 are entering our research process. How do we manage traditions and ritualistic expectations of library patrons? What is the value of the digital library? How do we connect technology with existing collections?
There remains a great deal of work for librarians to transform and create a new narrative for the printed book. The historical context of the 21st century requires libraries to be creative, expanding on the idea of Ceci n’est pas un Livre . The bookwall is a design example that the library can use to highlight the idea of learning in the library.
The overarching question remains: What type of machines do we allow into the Garden of Eden? Tell us what you think.
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We will be releasing data about the survey at our workshop “make the library an incubator for learning” on June, 5, 2014 @ Steelcase Worklife NYC
Image: René Magritte – La Lectrice soumise (1928)