Library Science

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Submitted by Gary Frost

Philology Book CoverFeral Seminar, 2014
Resilience of Book Transmission

Please join us for open forums,
Thursdays, 2:00—3:30, Fall Semester
Room 2058, Main Library

We have recently added an important reference for our wide study of resilience of book transmission. This is philology[1] and the legacy of comparative study of texts. We can extend this reference to include currently studied “comparative textual media”[2] as we expand philology to include screen and audio transmissions of texts. Our philology frame can also be extended if we add library science to engage books or bibliographic units and their arrangements into libraries. We could call the extension “philology of comparative libraries” and such projections could be extended to include audio and screen media.

A happy convergence can also be projected as library networks and their search engines have automated book access and automated comparative research beyond citations and down beyond texts to words. This progressive achievement offers a prospect of an even more comprehensive philology that will encompass the underlying structures of comparative texts and library automation. Word frequencies and keyword parsing can dissolve both units of texts and units of books and bring into focus comparative study of structures of composed transmissions. We can reflexively convert philology into a new reference model easily recognized by librarians.

As an example of library philology and comparative book study, we could take two books that we have recently encountered; the first printing of the Vulgate Bible and the first anthology of Shakespeare’s plays. These books, produced somewhat less than two centuries apart, offer a comparative opportunity for exercise of a new philology. One of these books appropriated a fully known text and a fully familiar format. Another presented an unrecognized genre and an innovative authorial text. One exemplified a risk of experimental technology of text production and the other a risk of an experimental, new readership. One was assimilated into a constrained continuity of Biblical text transmission while the other disputed and transacted transcription of textual representation of theatrical performance. Library philology spans such comparative transactions that attribute Biblical authority to Shakespearian texts and Shakespearian ambivalence to scripture.

Library philology can also be expanded, from macro to micro scale, to review automated concordance and collation. Word study, exemplified by Hinman’s collator, is extended to automated word frequency mining. Are textual interventions suggested by search results? Previous manual models of cross language and cross chronologies are now subjected to algorithmic processing. Will automated sorting generate new canonic readings? Automated library utilities already dissolve and reconfigure bibliographic units. A dependence on search results has reflexively provoked a librarianship of network types and maneuvers of deletion and disregard of results. Beyond legacy achievements of concordance and cross language format,[3] we may be advancing toward complementary roles of live book reference augmented by live screen discovery.

Note that our own keyword “resilience”[4] is further defined by our interplay of philology and librarianship. Resilience in “resilience of book transmission” thrives as we expand the scale and ambivalence of comparative and reflexive examination. We literary germinate more books about books.[5] We could even venture that all books are also books about their own resilience and their new engagements among readers.

We can also use the library philology model for its mediation of binaries of bionic vs. automated control, of analogue and digital research, and of paper and screen books.[6] As the librarian says; “Don’t be the bunny!” The library has been a pioneer of digital technology, network access and on-line reading. At the same time and into the current context of digital library dominance, the library continues to curate mixed format collections to serve the bionic reader. Librarians know that without service to living readers and working communities…libraries will disappear. Libraries are still here.

[1] see our workhorse reference; James Turner, Philology, the forgotten origins of the modern humanities, Princeton, 2014.

[2] see the textbook anthology; Katherine Hales and Jessica Pressman, Comparative Textual Media, University of Minnesota, 2013.

[3] see; Christianity and the Transformation of the Book, by Anthony Grafton and Megan Williams, Harvard, 2006. This is a spectacular book about master book compilers of Antiquity; Origen and Eusebius and the library of Caesarea.

[4] for a working definition see; Andrew Zolli, resilience, WHY THINGS BOUNCE BACK, Free Press, 2012.

[5] as an example; Bonnie Mak, How the Page Matters, University of Toronto, 2011. (for fun we could also mention books dealing with the eclipse, super-cession and demise of books)

[6] for vivid study of the processes of automation displacing productive capacities of bionic skills and human cognition see; Nicholas Carr, The Glass Cage, 2014.