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The Internet Can't Kill Libraries

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Do you curl up with a book or a nook, kindle or iPad? Where do you turn for news, entertainment and aesthetic enjoyment? Where do you go to learn?

Our browse-at-will, on-demand habits and reliance on the World Wide Web are changing myriad professions and institutions, arguably none as much as the field of Library and Information Science.

But isn't the internet a virtual library? Nope.

Despite the furious pace of digitalizing books, images and streaming audio and uploading video onto the web, there is little to be had there, in comparison to what libraries contain. Not just for reasons of copyright, licensing and fee-based usage, either.

Like museums of art and natural history, libraries are repositories for rare, specialized physical collections and archives, which they continue to acquire, catalog and preserve.

And a librarian — a research expert — can direct you to resources that will help answer complex questions. Or guide you when information overload becomes frustrating.

Furthermore, public libraries have become vital community centers and civic anchors, connecting individuals with ideas and informed opinions, and encouraging lifelong learning.

Library operations and services, and the public's use of them, have fascinated visual arts curator Rachel Gugelberger for at least the past six years. The result is the exhibition Library Science, on view this fall and early winter at New Haven's Artspace, before traveling to the Institute of Contemporary Art inPhiladelphia.

Library Science features 17 works by established contemporary artists from New York and California, Mexico, France and Germany, and embraces painting, drawing and sculpture, photography, and web-based installations. Some explore library organization, such as open stacks and now near-defunct card catalog drawers and cabinets (having been replaced by computer data bases). Others depict scholars poring over print treasures.

And at four libraries within walking distance of Artspace, related work by Connecticut artists Colin Burke, Heather Lawless, Carol Padberg and Tyler Starr (who were selected by Gugelberger with gallery staff) will be concurrently on view.

The show's title is a term that became common usage in the early 20th century to describe the study and practice of library administration and functions. The field was professionalized by Melvil Dewey, founder of the first library education program in 1887 at Columbia College (now University) in New York City, and inventor of the Dewey Decimal System for cataloging books.

Imagine, the breadth of responsibilities and need for specialization was urgent then for managing the storage, retrieval, and classification of printed matter and art objects. Today, keeping apace with technology reminds Trinity College librarian Dr. Richard S. Ross of the Red Queen's words to Alice in Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass": "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

Luckily, our fingers can do the running to Library Science, since the exhibition catalog will be going on line.

But that cannot compare to being there.


Library Science

Opens Nov. 12. Ends Jan. 28. Artspace, 50 Orange St., New Haven. 203-772 - 2709, artspacenh.org

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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