No. 13




The humanities scholar in the information society library

  • Piret Lotman

    Estonian National Library Research and Development Centre, senior research fellow

The humanities, or liberal arts, have traditionally been associated with the classic library in the form developed over the centuries, which can be seen as an archive of publications. Such a body of text essentially represents the cultural memory of a school of thought, reflecting its interests and its choices.

Stocking and maintaining an archive type of library becomes more and more expensive as the amount of printed material produced increases, demanding more space and time. In theory, today’s information technology allows for the digitization of all texts, and book depositories would become obsolete along with the problems of the traditional library. But the virtual library would lose its function of repository of cultural memory—it is not selective or rigidly connected to the time that it was created, unlike texts in the linear literary culture. Neither is electronic text authorized: it is easily changeable and thus unreliable. Humanities scholars need printed books.

Humanities libraries are a type of library developed in the United States, but were conceived of in theory (Bernard Fabian, Michael Knoche) as well as practically implemented (the Duchess Anna Amalia Library) in its finest form in Germany.

Even though Estonian library science, and the more valuable part of our old books, have their roots in Germany, the Estonian language does not even have a term for “library of humanities”. The reasons reach back to the Soviet occupation, when Soviet bodies, aiming to transform the national identity, removed humanities literature from Estonian libraries and cut Estonia off from the Western Judaeo-Christian cultural sphere, creating irreparable lacunae in our book collections. The priority in the Soviet Union, as in the Third Reich, was placed on physical science collections, and the attitude toward disciplines and literature in the humanities as inferior extended to the higher schools that trained librarians. When Estonia regained its freedom, the gaps created on the bookshelves by the occupation forces persisted, and the prevalent attitudes toward humanities literature collections did not change in the library establishment. The priority in library science of today belongs to the successor of informatics, information science.

Full article in Estonian