thing of the past, going the way of liveryrnstahles and raihoad depots — maintainedrnas curiosities, perliaps, but not as viablerninstitutions in a communih-‘s (or a college’s)rnmakeup. Already, this trend is inrnmotion. Most of my students go to the librar-rnonl- after exhaushng all efforts tornfind the data thev need on the internet,rnand man’ tell me that they have managedrnfour ears of college without everrndarkening the librarv’s doors. Most majorrnreference books are available on CDROM,rnand updates can be downloadedrnin minutes. Een those who need an actualrnlibrarv book can first locate it in thernonline catalogue, then scan and uploadrnsalient cliapters or passages for use on arnhome or office computer.rnI rccentK observed a high-school agernstudent completing “research” for a paperrnduring a two-hour la’Over at LAX,rnniereK h plugging her laptop into a modemrnkiosk and hooking herself up to a librar.rnShe told me she would read thernmaterial she was downloading during herrnupcoming flight, then draft her paperrnand ship it to iier teacher during anotherrnla()er in St. Louis.rnMethods of purchasing books hae alsornchanged dramaticalh’ over the pastrncouple of ears. With die advent of Amd-rn;o;;;, bookstores are rapidlv becomingrnanachronistic. W’ln; then, should librariesrnsur ivc? The’ don’t e’eu offerrncroissants to their patrons.rnIt is entircK’ possible that everythingrnmankind is, knows, or can become couldrnw ind up being stored on media that rec|rnuires a funefional wall socket merely tornl)c read. But if all librar materials are renderedrnclcctronicalh’ and our entire powerrnsuppK — as a nation, as a continent, as arnw orld — suildenh- is lost, what then?rnSurely this is die stuff of science fiction.rnOr is it? During militar}-operationsrnin die Balkans, NATO warplanes regu-rnIarl bombed utilit}’ plants, attempfing torndcstro- Serbia’s means of producing andrndistributing electricity. Similar targetsrnwere attacked during the Gulf War; notrnouK were Iraqi power plants destroyed,rnbut oil wells — the means for creafing thernpower—were attacked. Given the abilih’rnof toda s militan’ to attack interior locations,rna general disrupfion —if not enfirernloss —of a nation’s electrical power becausernof an act of war (or even of terrorism)rnis entireh’ conceivable.rnA national crisis coidd also rcsidt inrnthe suspension or long-term loss of electricalrnpower. Electricity, after all, is arnpublic utilih and, as such, is subject to diversionrnat the pleasure of the governmentrnshoidd some nafional or regional emergencyrnarise. If meeting the needs createdrnby some huge catastrophe demandedrnmore electrical current for defense, orrnsaving lives, or political integrit)’, thenrncivilian needs would be suspended —rnmaybe ended.rnMoreover, our fossil-fuel resources are,rnas we are constandy reminded, finite. Werncan generate electricit)’ by other means —rnnuclear power, for one—but again, suchrnmeans are dependent on a fragile schemernof technolog)’whose maintenance is itselfrnlargely dependent on electrical power.rnNuclear-power plants are also targetedrnduring militar)’ attacks, and the cannotrnbe easily relocated and rebuilt. It mightrnnot be possible to do so at all unless thernengineers and scientists have ready accessrnto the data reqiured to construct and opcraternsuch a plant.rnUnderlying the decision to place morernand more of the world’s written know 1-rnedge into electronic form is a complacentrnassumption that someone, somewrnhere is maintaining “hard copy” forrn”posterity.” But for decades, communihrnand academic libraries hae seen steadyrnreductions in budgets and decliningrnspace, personnel, and resources neccssar’rnto maintain and enlarge their holdings.rnWliat happens when even the contentsrnof their oldest stacks arc committedrnto ”virtual” memory and the physicalrncopies of books, periodicals, and documentsrnarc allowed to deteriorate —or arerndiscarded?rnAnd before pointing to the Librar’ ofrnGongress or a similar centralized repositoryrnas a “hard copy” archixe, rememberrnthat, in the event of a nuclear attack, suchrninstitutions are generally located right atrnground zero. Shordd a large-scale war ofrnany kind occur, major nafional libraries inrnthe world’s capitals would be among thernfirst buildings to be destroyed and the lastrnto be defended. Moreover, neither citiesrnnor libraries are immune from the ravagesrnof fires, earthquakes, or weather-relatedrndisasters such as hurricanes or tornados.rnI am not anticipafing a nuclear war orrne en a natural disaster of such proportions.rnBut should we come to the point wherernwe rely on only a handful of loeafions—orrneven a single locafion—as our sole “hardrncopy” archive, we might be courting arncatastrophe of monumental proportions.rnWhen the Library of Alexandria burned,rnthe world lost as much as 90 percent of itsrnstore of learning.rnThe significant point here is diat electronicrndocuments do not exist—at leastrnnot in any reliable form that we canrncount on to be accessible for centuries torncome. Even placing data on compactrndiscs or recording tape is not a fail-safernplan for preservation, for such media stillrnrequires electricity and compatible hardwarerntechnology to be read. Wherernwoidd we be if everything we publishedrnor recorded between, say, IQGS and 1980rnhad been placed exclusively on eighttrackrntape—the “cutting edge” of its fime?rnMy first word-processing program wasrnhighly touted as one of the most efficientrnfor use in acadenfic work, and I embracedrnit fully. As a result, I now havern150 five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy di.sksrn(once “state of the art”), jammed withrnmore than 500 documents, includingrnfive complete books and dozens of unpublishedrnmanuscripts. And I cannotrnread, retrieve, or print out an’ of it withrnmy present system. No one can. Thernmanufacturer of the program went out ofrnbusiness eight years ago. M- onl- copy ofrndie program deteriorated with use, developingrnan “unrecoverable fault” that willrnnot allow me to access any of my documents,rnand no other program can “translate”rnthem without the application.rnBecause I was caufious, 1 maintainedrnhard copies of anything I deemed important.rnBut there is sfill a great deal of workrnthat is lost forever and which cannot bernretrieved except through m- imperfectrnhuman memor)’.rnI wonder if the electronic media beingrnused to store and even to publish thernworld’s knowledge, philosoph’, spcculafion,rnand thought might also be “outdated”rnone of these das; if the greatest worksrnof all time might, at some point, be avaihrnable only on a stack of media that is nornmore useful than one of ni old floppyrndisks. Who is responsible for ensuringrnthis will not happen? Who is monitoringrnthe process? Those who push technologyrnforward, developing new software andrnhardware almost daily?rnMy point is to call for caution in thisrnrapid leap toward technological transfer ofrnthe written word to electronic media. Irnrecommend that w e – a s academics, asrnwriters, as educated people—demand thatrnsome physical artifact be kept safe and accessible,rnno matter how convenient orrneconomically expedient it niav be to relyrncompletely on electronic de’ices.rnIn the meantime, I’m going to scrollrnup, re-read and proof this document, runrnmy spellchecker, my grammar-checker,rnand prepare it for submission. But I shallrnFEBRUARY 2001/45rnrnrn