They say when you have a baby – when you hold it in your hands and feel how tiny and fragile it is — certain feelings well up in you that you have never felt before, which change you forever. I say when you look at a dumpster full of ancient books, you can’t possibly come away the same person. I have stood in front of mountains of discarded clothing higher than my head; I have seen warehouses of food sloughed off by supermarkets to go to food pantries; I have eaten freegan bagels and revived dumpstered computers; and I was not prepared for this.
Today I held a book in my hands from 1829 that was bound in leather – in actual dead animals. Its cover was scarcely bigger than my hands. The grain of the leather was so fine and soft. Its spine was torn away, leaving a mass like the inside of a squash. I opened it and could barely turn the pages out of fear I would kill its ideas with my clumsy futuristic hands.
I’m a digital book/eBook militant. But seeing books — knowledge! — discarded like that does drive me crazy.
Public libraries shouldn’t wind up with digital collections that are the equivalent of Monsanto terminator seeds. We’re cutting our throats and the throat of the future doing that.
I don’t even trust Google Books — which caves in to the public domain parasites — and have downloaded thousands of old public domain books in PDF format that, goddammit, I am determined will always be free for everyone, despite the parasites.
I’ve suggested two things to him:
1) To see if Google Books has already digitized them
2) Cotacting The Internet Archive to rescue them
Same-day update: After hitting Publish, I saw the date of his post: 2008! Whatever happened, happened long ago in Internet Time. I have been railing against a phantasm.