What about the mature citizen?

Contribution to the destroying of books and culture by the “digital revolution”

by Urs Knoblauch, cultural publicist, Fruthwilen

One observes the increasing disposal of books with astonishment. Waste troughs full of “scrapped books” from school libraries are in front of schoolhouses. The books are mostly in good condition, partly almost new and from all scientific fields. “The regular, periodic retirement, for reasons of space,” is stated as explanation. Even three prestigious antiquarian booksellers have had to close in the old town of Zurich. Traditional bookstores are struggling to survive, although book fairs register an increasing number of visitors every year. “Brockenhäuser” (second hand shops) no longer take all books.
Good books are cultural assets. They were written by authors with heart’s blood and great effort, designed by graphic artists, carefully printed by printers in the tradition of Johannes Gutenberg, bound and published by publishers. These cultural achievements were financed, nourished and cherished by our ancestors.
Now without any discussion with the citizens, who today also finance the libraries and are clearly against this culture destruction, the book will disappear more and more.
Of course, computers and forms of digitisation are useful work facilities. The “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, with its digitalization, robotising and total surveillance, however, ruthlessly makes its way and deeply engages in social life. “One has to adapt to the times” is the cheap standard answer, and in politics one hears: “We must remain marketable and competitive”. The tried-and-true school tradition with real education and good schoolbooks is gradually transformed and digitised by reformists without leading an open and honest discussion.
This will still more lead to the fact that even high school absolvents are hardly able to read the important books of the humanist tradition any more. Whole schools will be converted for digitisation; books will become a minor matter. “Being modern” in everyday design and contemporary architecture, means bare walls as well, neither bookshelves nor pictures, simply digital. Where are we actually, what is going on, what do we leave to the next generation, and what do we demonstrate to poorer countries?

Library of the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf. (picture ma)

Does the mature and analogue reader disturb total surveillance?

Recently, in the German “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” of 30 November 2016 there were two detailed articles, which made you listen attentively. Title: “Notes from Underground”. Subtitle: “The German National Bibliotheca takes leave of the printed book and locks it away, but kids itself with the digitisation. The mature analogue reader, who cannot be monitored, is only disturbing in the ‘knowledge society’.” Author of the excellent article: Thomas Thiel.
The title of the second article, written by Andreas Rossmann, is “In the suction of change management”. Subtitle: “Service instead of research: the university library is devoting itself a shrinking cure”. Not only does the tradition-steeped University of Düsseldorf bear the name Heinrich Heine, it also has a large and prestigious collection of valuable books, estates, valuable manuscripts and prints. This University and State Library of North Rhine-Westphalia, ULB, is now prescribed to set up a transformation and a “changing process”, which is intended to prune them to “service facilities”. According to the author, in this process “infamous means” are used. The whole enterprise was to be carried out without getting public. The “results acquired” should not be announced “to persons outside the working group”, according to the minutes of the working group. The author of the article describes how the University and State Library, which is part of the “Top Group” of the University Libraries, is to be restructured by the “Struktur AG” working group, headed by the “Prorector for Study Quality and Human Resources Management”. The group had the task to deal with structures, processes, tasks and savings. The results are alarming: “Their recommendations do not only provide that the opening hours are limited until 10 pm instead of midnight, it infringes the core substance: compound bibliotheca humanities and sciences, in total 850,000 units, is reduced by an ‘offensive segregation’ and about half of it, because it is currently not supposed to be needed, are being pulped – a proposal based on the questionable assumption that knowledge requirements and research development are predictable.” In addition, clear historical obligations are to be ignored, too. “Neither the city nor the land that has brought its old stock into the ULB, not only in order to manage it, but also in order to build upon them and to perpetuate them, recognises this or takes offence at it.” Such procedures and plans must not have any signal effect. “What is going to happen in Düsseldorf is not ‘only’ the university: the foundations of a broad availability of literature for the social, cultural and intellectual discourse are reduced in favour of special science areas, which are smaller, more manageable and cheaper.” This is obviously “modern university policy” not only in Germany!

Library as a designed “non-book sector”?

Thomas Thiel also depicts similar alarming events in the German National Library in the article.
“The decision of the German National Library (DNB) to block access to printed books which are also available electronically is based on an easily comprehensible argument. The books are used by the reader and it is expensive to have them repaired over and over again. Thus, the DNB is dismissing the core task of a library, to offer a space where books can be borrowed and read.” The DNB wants to be a modern library. “It is in the process of reinventing itself as a content provider with a sense for the disruptive moment. Libraries are thoroughly gutted according to this presently very influential concept. The books are dusted and cleared away in order to give way to a non-book sector, where one can rock and chat on lounge chairs as long as wished. The talk of the end of the book becomes a career ladder for librarians who don not want to be librarians anymore.” The design culture replaces table and chair for the study of books. The author of the article continues, “Reading is still allowed, but once the shelves are gone it will turn to be the most beautiful minor matter. The reader sinks into the frenzy of an aestheticised ambience in which the book receives a place of honour as a display case.” It can be added that similar developments prevail in modern museum design. Of course, methods of change management are necessary for this! These alarming events make clear that all human scientific findings shall be ignored. The fact is that the personal reading of a paper book, the personal experience of the work, is never to be compared with the digital services, which are also to become the big business. The major damage in the emotional, mental and social development is foreseeable. In this context, two excellent articles were published recently in Current Concerns, “Language is more than just communicating” by Dr. Eliane Perret and “The Value of Reading” by Renate Dünki , Current Concerns 29/30 (20-12-2016). They show how reading and reading out in the family, later in school as well as talking about it, make a decisive contribution to the formation of feelings and personality, and to cultural rootedness. What is gratifying is the fact that an educationally valuable school and family book has been reprinted.
It is particularly alarming that the digital revolution and transformation is also accompanied by total surveillance. What happens to the user data? Who decides which books are to be promoted and which are “out-dated” and are to be disposed of, who verifies the content and exact wording of the new digital products? The great resistance to the plans of the National Library demonstrates the fact that responsible citizens do not allow this. “The German National Library loosens the digital constraint,” the Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported on January 25: “Pickets in front of the door and other reactions of displeasure have warned the National Library in recent months that the majority of users still prefer printed matters. In addition, most persons want to decide how they read. The protests against digital compulsion concerned all generations, the DNB in ​​Frankfurt ascertained. The reflections in the house such as how to shape the user regulations in the current phase of upheaval were still “in flow”.
The topic presented here is intended to serve as a thought-provoking idea. The responsible citizen, the common good, culture, politics and democracy are in liability here. Let us protect our book culture and our libraries from the anti-human forces’ grasp.     •