Penn State

Glenn S. McGuigan - Associate Librarian, Penn State Harrisburg

Book Title: The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

Author: Sven Birkerts

Book Description:

This collection of essays offers reflections upon the fate of the book and the experience of reading in the digital era. This work had a profound influence upon me as a graduate student studying library science and still resonates with me as a librarian and a bibliophile. As the title suggests, these essays dwell upon the demise of the book, as a container of information, in the world of electronic media. Throughout the work, Birkerts argues that we should resist the lure of computers because of their deleterious effects upon the reading experience, discussing such factors as hypertext distraction and information overload. While I disagree with many of Birkerts' conclusions, he makes many valid points in his arguments regarding the seduction of technology that may lead to a loss of concerted focus in penetrating texts. At the same time, what may be a Pandora's box of information overload and diminished attention span to a writer such as Birkerts exists as a powerful tool to engage in communication and foster new levels of research for many people. From my perspective as a librarian, the book, as a container of information, is far from dead, and thankfully an elegy appears to be premature. Nevertheless, I find this work to be an important contribution to the discussion concerning the effect of digital technology upon libraries, reading, and scholarly communication.


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