Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Death of the Printed Word?

The CPSIA, a law intended to protect our children from lead and phthalates (a chemical that makes plastics soft), has taken a wrong turn and I am especially concerned with its decree that books printed prior to 1985 should NOT be available to children. In response to my previous blogs, I have heard some sad and alarming stories reflecting the repercussions of this mandate.

But what if this is the beginning of a trend? The CPSIA tells libraries they must "sequester" these children's books--keep them, but not let them be available to children. Then, Half Price Books removing half their children's inventory and the resulting lack of availability to foreign buyers who rely on these sources for children's books.

Taken a step further, we have the story from Australia, where the library management decided they were no longer a "research" library, but a "lending" library and removed all books printed prior to 2000.

Yesterday, the top news story was about the newspapers that are going out of business. The great San Francisco Chronicle, once owned by William Randolph Hearst of newspaper fame.

It makes me wonder if we are seeing the beginning of the end of the printed word. Hopefully, it will be a long road, but the prospect of my children's children getting all their reading material off the internet or their iBooks saddens me deeply.

Compare the incomparable photographs of Life magazine to the video clips from cell phones we are seeing on our news. Yes, it's instant. Yes, it's there. But it's hardly art; hardly memorable.

Besides the loss of the leisure of reading a good book, the smell and feel of paper between your fingers, the suspense of turning the page, and the lovely illustrations that can only be fully appreciated in printed form, what pitfalls lie before us?

Eventually, will we have a central online library? Who will control what we see? How much easier to track who is reading what--our own government wants libraries to provide this information to them today, but libraries have fought to protect our privacy--our freedom of reading--preferring to provide the information only where a lawful warrant is provided.

If centralized, how easy to eliminate what is embarassing or block what is unflattering. It's happening today. Type "Tiananmen Square" in a search engine in China and you will see a list of travel highlights but no mention of the massacre of July 5, 1989.

These things may not come to pass, but it is worth considering the ramifications if this were to happen.

Hopefully, our children won't be looking back on history and thinking 'I wonder why my parents didn't try to stop this from happening?'

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