Over the past fifty five years, since I first entered the University of Nottingham as an undergraduate student, university libraries have always played a central role in my life. The moment I enter one of those libraries, I feel at home. The sweet sense of silence that always greets me, in a world of largely senseless noise, is a tonic to my soul.
Of course, not all libraries are equally well-endowed as sources of knowledge. Libraries at the universities of Oxford, Nottingham, London School of Economics, and Newcastle Upon Tyne ranged (in that order) from outstanding to excellent. Those at the newer universities of Kent at Canterbury, York and George Mason, naturally were less well-endowed, but still imbued with the basics for scholarly endeavor.
So I have been deeply disturbed during the summer of 2012 to find the library of George Mason University decreasingly occupied, either by scholars or by students. On some occasions, indeed,the number of staff significantly exceeded the number of visitors. Last week, I asked a librarian why this was so. ‘ Libraries are increasingly viewed as obsolete’, she replied to my question. ’Individuals below the age of 40 pick up everything they can on line and do not have the attention span to explore a library, to read a lengthy tome from cover to cover, or to sit quietly in one place for more than 40 minutes.’
Sic transit gloria mundae!