Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bruce McCall's "The Reading Room" illustration

I recycle diligently, but I wish I'd have kept the original page. Bruce McCall envisioned "The Reading Room" of the public library as full of videos, computers, Brittney, and cellphone chatters. Not a prediction so much as present depiction!

My digital reader ("sponsored by Chevron") does not allow me as a subscriber to the New Yorker to control the content. As with such electronic access points of the present, not only in McCall's hi-tech scenario (all of two years past, April 9, 2007), I cannot do much with what the screens dictate.

Still, I tried to overcome the limitations of the zoom pre-sets and my mouse calibrations to show you the illustration. As with all of this Canadian illustrator's work, the devil's in the details. And, these do not show on the image I saved as enlarged on the New Yorker's Digital Reader! They've fragmented, with text legible but colors and patterns vanished or blown into bits as in a freeze-frame of an explosion inside the hall. So, in a fittingly satirical twist that makes McCall's point, I have to narrate what that "resolution" prevents you from viewing.

Frieze: You can make this out, as medieval pilgrims to a cathedral could the gist of the scenes high overhead. No stained glass here, but on the left (your right?) you have the likes of O'Donnell and O'Reilly, not Ireland's gift to literature, but to Fox News. Dobbs and Huffington share honors. On the right (your left) we have a hint of Jon Stewart, next Winfrey matched to Disney, two conglomerates no less relentless than Murdoch's in peddling their zeitgeist, puff and pelf.

History shelves begin on the left classified with "American Idol-Anna Nicole Smith." No patriarchal Library of Congress or eurocentric Dewey Decimal System here. History alphabetically continues with "Britney" ad infinitum. On the right: "Autobiography and;" "Non-Fiction and;" "Fiction and Cartoons."

Between the stacks full of screens and videos, we see the patrons. In the middle of the floor in the near distance, plasma-type displays show what may be-- skirting trademark violations-- Cruella de Ville and Shrek. Seated at stations, each user taps in to a monitor that reflects back him or her. Some slouch over, asleep. One kiosk offers "Books on Cell Phone." (This pre-iPhone or Kindle!) Another terminal advises under "Info" its seekers to "Check Back for Updates."

A sign above a trash can full of books where a tired old fellow clad in a bathrobe burrows warns "Bums Only." Is that a plainclothes detective about to cart off a recalcitrant spinster with what may be actual volumes in her possession? Or, has she fainted or flailed at the sight that greets her? Around the shelves and on the upper levels, people chat on cellphones and wander about as aimlessly as if they're at a mall. The placard at the entrance announces: "Reading Section Closed."

My employer's reducing our library from 18,000 to 3,000 items. Our relocation means that the new facility will share 1,600 square feet (including offices) with the tutoring center, in a part of the "campus" separate from classrooms, where only admissions and administration offices will slumber. One shelf will be all ever allowed for reference, two for circulating books. Six carrels with six computers.

We have been encouraged to buy e-book readers-- as implemented instead of textbooks for our now hybrid half-online, half-onsite modes of all our instruction-- to lend out instead of putting money into any hardbound acquisitions. Our students, we are told, do not read anymore. They watch.

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