Odyssey Online

Privacy and Personal Libraries

November 19, 2012 · No Comments

Under the heading of “this just in,” at MobyLives Ellie Robins has published Your Reading Behavior Is Being Monitored describing the extent to which the major purveyors of electronic books track the habits of readers. It turns out they not only monitor the titles people select, but what exactly is read within a given titles…there is apparently a company that fancies it can sell this kind of technology to universities to track and chart student behavior.   While the article points out that railing against this kind of invasive digital undertaking is yelling at thunderstorms, it brings to mind an article featured on the FODYLL blog, Anthony Daniels’ I: Loss and Gain and The Fate of the Book.   In this particular essay, Daniels ponders the fate of his library after his death:

My library, for the moment so solid and reliable, will dissolve after my death as surely as will my body. Some people claim that the knowledge that the atoms and molecules of which they are composed will survive to be absorbed into the wider world consoles them for the prospect of their death; and I, too, derived, until recently, some consolation from the fact that I am not really the owner of my books, but only the temporary guardian of them until they are passed on to the guardianship of someone else. It is true that when, in earlier years, I bought a book a quarter of a millennium old I looked at the names of the previous owners inscribed on its cover or title page and thought, “Now, at last, the book has found its true owner, its final resting place—me,” and pitied the previous owners for their failure to understand this, and for their ignorance of the book’s final destiny. But now I am more inclined to recall that I have owned the book for thirty years; in another thirty years it will be owned, or looked after, by someone else of whose identity I know nothing, and he will suffer from precisely my delusion and that of all previous owners.

The power of the image here is how a library blends both possession and anonymity.  In collecting these books and amassing this embodiment of his personality, Daniels has to acknowledge that they will not follow him, and will even have lives beyond his possession of them.  By their nature, too, the books also will betray nothing about him, whereas the ethereal e-book will keep a record of your every read long after your gone.  The collection of physical books is possession as person and in being dismantled (the person gone) beings a new unacknowledged legacies.   There is nature in this, there is peace.

Categories: Books · Essay on Bibliography · Yikes!

St. Lawrence University