The major libraries of the future are being formed right now, and the Internet in particular – and technology in general – are important ingredients. These libraries are different from those of past generations because of the psychology of their creators, principally individual collectors, who happen to be leaders in technology.
They don’t collect to impress people, to create an image, or to reassure themselves of their erudition. They are not impressed that something is rare, or that others have deemed it desirable. They don’t need to buy culture.
Few of these libraries are even slightly known to the public. Most are as private as they are individual. People with the means and ideas to collect what really interests them, rather than form a library that represents the ideas of others and what their concepts of a library should be, could not be formed without the Internet.
While the sources of historical letters and manuscripts have always been relatively few, and collectors of original writings have been more individual in their approach, collecting books has always been greatly influenced by the supply system.
If you were interested in people or subjects out of the mainstream, and there was no dealer specializing in the area, you would have a very difficult time collecting. Dealers wouldn’t buy non-mainstream books for their stocks and certainly couldn’t afford to risk catalog space on books of unproven interest.
The Internet has revolutionized this. The books that you want to put together on a particular subject may be scattered among several hundred dealers throughout the world, and they may not be expensive enough to appear in printed catalogs, but by using the Net, you can find them in the most efficient way.
Collectors’ abilities to fully utilize and appreciate their libraries and collections also have been greatly enhanced by computerized inventories that can be readily searched for cross-references or other subjects that may be contained in the letters, manuscripts, and books. Technology also has made available most standard reference sets of books online, eliminating the need to take up large amounts of linear feet of shelf space in modern libraries.
Many dealers and librarians are surprised when I say that after 40 years in the business, I am enjoying it more than ever. I believe it is the new and future collectors, with their attitudes of genuine interest and excitement and their unique take on life, that keep me going forth to more interesting journeys into the past.