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Books and the future of books, 14 April 2013
Towards the end of the 19th century, book-lover and former British prime minister W.E. Gladstone was worried: Britain could one day be drowning in books. He predicted there could soon be 60,000 books a year being published. How would libraries store so many books? And how would they be organised?
In 2012 The British Library received 3 million new books a year. Somehow we are coping.
But such was Gladstone's concern in 1890 that he published a pamphlet: On Books And The Housing Of Them. In it he gives detailed advice on how to build your private library, what size shelves should be and how your books should be organised. And he had a radical solution to the problem of having too many books: A book cemetery.
But there's more than the humour of hindsight evoked by this short pamphlet. At a time society is looking once more at the future of books, the future of libraries, and the birth of the Google Library (an attempt to digitise every book ever published), this proves to be a surprisingly timely publication by a 19th century bibliophile.
Take this quote for example: "Noble works ought not to be printed in mean and worthless forms, and cheapness ought to be limited by an instinctive sense and law of fitness. The binding of a book is the dress with which it walks out into the world. The paper, type and ink are the body, in which its soul is domiciled. And these three, soul, body, and habilament, are a triad which ought to be adjusted to one another by the laws of harmony and good sense."
An explanatory preface in front of Gladstone's booklet for today's reader would be useful but it's a surprisingly apposite book
* I've also been reminded that Gladstone had a Scouse accent so please read his pamphlet accordingly!