The Paper Trail

The Paper Trail

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Future of Libraries and the Huntington Library (Edward Rothstein at NYT)

Edward Rothstein of the New York Times has a fascinating piece on the Huntington Library's new exhibitions. I think he falters a bit in his review, but his conclusion strikes me as solid and suggestive:
[The Huntington] is developing its own syncretic style, with [aspirations towards] European culture at the foundation. This approach has its tensions. .... And in the library show, the idea of aspiration is almost undercut by later exhibits that are more concerned with grievances and injustices. Yet at the same time, aspiration is not really jettisoned. The spirit of ambitious wonder is preserved in permanent exhibitions like “Beautiful Science” — a haunting evocation of scientific exploration told through the library’s holdings.

Rothstein points with some slight irony to the tension between iconic great books and objects (which the public expects to be preserved) with the new non-canonical materials that fit more with contemporary scholarly research. There's definitely a tension, which I don't think Rothstein unpacks, but perhaps those issues can't be unpacked in a short review piece for the the Times. A lot of that non-canonical material will end up on the web for preservation and dissemination, and I'm not sure that the public will be as supportive of spending money to conserve and exhibit it. 

Source: Edward Rothstein, "A Treasure House of Shifting Aspirations ‘The Library Re-Imagined,’ at the Huntington" (New York Times, Dec 20, 2013)

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