24 November 2012

Burn It Down

On my Twitter timeline this week there was a link to a story of the BBC disposing of 80,000 books (http://www.bbc.co.uk/ariel/20314107 – thanks to @IveReadThat). The BBC is in the middle of relocating, with a new media centre in Salford already up and running and with Television Centre being sold off, they are short of storage space. I can empathise with Auntie, as we often have the same problem in our mid-terrace Victorian house. But you would have thought they could have planned a library in one of their new buildings. Maybe the BBC believes they can do all of their research using Google and Wikepedia.

What’s surprising is that they are having trouble donating the books to other organisations as ‘many of them were downsizing their collections too’. While reading that, Fahrenheit 451 came to mind; a society destroying books. We’ve skipped the totalitarian government bit and are sleepwalking towards the bonfire. Once this collection has gone, its gone forever. I can’t imagine any organisation in the future amassing a library of such size without a profit margin as their primary motive.

Last week my wife asked if I had a copy of James Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall. ‘Of course’ but a search revealed that I have all of Herbert’s books bar that one. However, in reality there are two books that I don’t own, his latest, Ash, is a Kindle download, and as Amazon have reminded us recently, we don’t actually own our Kindle books.

Remembering Woolworths and Borders, what happens when Amazon turns up its toes? When my Kindle packs up, do I have to buy another Kindle? What if I want a Kobo?

I had this fantasy of owning a big house where I would have a library. As you walked through the door, all four walls would be covered floor to ceiling with all manner of books, the door would have shelves on the back so that when it was closed you would need to know which book to pull to open it. The only break in the shelves would be a window, with a writing desk in front, overlooking a lawn sweeping down to an apple orchard. In the centre of the room there would be a snooker table where Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price would come around and play a couple of frames in the summer evenings before retiring to the overstuffed green leather armchairs to peruse my fine collection of mid-20th Century Ian Fleming paperbacks, while sipping brandy and smoking cigars.

That’s analogue, in the digital version, the walls would be empty except for a enormous screen; a computer and printer together with hard disks for music and video and an E-reader on charge would be obscuring the view of the orchard. Opposite the screen would be a black leather settee where Pete, Chrissie L and Vinnie would be playing Call of Duty while necking Vodka Red Bulls.

I know we have to move forward but dismantling a library that has been built up over the 90 years of the BBC is not progress. And the ironic postscript: I’ve not read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, I’ve only seen the film. I’m part of the problem.