Earlier this week I took part in a debate at the British Library -- 'Is the Physical Library a Redundant Resource for 21st century academics' organised by THE. To put it another way, should we all stay at home/in our studies and call up all the resources we need on our lap tops and let the country save all the money that bricks and mortar and bulky things like books eat up. You can read an account of the debate here and here and here.
Now no-one could accuse The Don of being a Luddite (I have my laptop open in the breakfast table and cant imagine what life was like before JSTOR), but I don't intend to give up the physical library without a jolly good fight.
My paean of praise for the physical library included some of the familiar lines...You dont just go to the library for information, you go there to learn how to think differently, and that is about ordering, classification, serendipity (what book you find on the shelf next to the one you thought you were looking for...on which, see Grafton and Hamburger on the marvellous but threatened Warburg Library). And you go also for the people, the other readers and the librarians. And you go for the sheer pleasure of having space and quiet to THINK... not to mention the pleasures of transgression (and on this topic I had a little nostalgic reflection on all the things we used to do in libraries . . . eat, drink, smoke substances legal and illegal, have sex. I was tempted to ask for a show of hands from those who had ever made love in a library bookstack, a bibliophile's Mile High club, but thought embarrassment might produce a misleadingly low score.