A letter from a reader: Renovating Firestone

February 13, 2008:

Before the Dec. 12 issue of PAW (Notebook), I am not sure many alumni were aware of the impending project at Firestone Library, which has caused some concern on campus this autumn. Our main library, for which such a plan has been in the works for quite some time now, is now about to be renovated. Various individuals (particularly humanists, and most particularly the most humanistic among us, classicists) have been expressing their concerns about the unfolding plans.

My sense of the situation is one of a “consumer” of Firestone’s goods over the last 57 years. While I am not so silly as to be upset by the prospect of any change at all, I, too, am concerned lest the new Firestone involve the sacrifice of space devoted to open stacks and the collection of actual books to the needs of joint activities and virtual libraries.

My image of a great library (and Firestone is a great library, pound-for-pound, as the chroniclers of pugilism used to say, one of the greatest libraries in the world) does not include much space devoted to conversation. Libraries are, and should be, places where one can escape from talk, where silence and solitary adventure reign. I am sure that Karin Trainer, our librarian, and my colleagues and their students nearly all agree with that view, and thus trust them all to make sure that Firestone will only become a still-stronger element in Princeton’s institutional excellence.

A further observation: I have good credentials as a humanist who saw the light early about the importance of the computer even to our fields of study and work. It was as early as 1982 that I began to work on the first of three “computer projects” that I have directed. There are few humanists who have been as actively involved in this new activity as long as I. Nonetheless, the notion that digitized collections can replace the costly acquisition and maintenance of books, manuscripts, and periodicals is a dubious one, and will be so at least for quite some time to come.

Professor of European Literature and French and Italian, emeritus
Princeton, N.J.

Editor’s note: The following are links to articles from The Daily Princetonian related to the subject of this letter:

(Column by J. Katz, Sept. 24, 2007)


(Editorial, Sept. 28, 2007)


(A. Grafton, Oct. 1, 2007)


(R. Lindau, Oct. 3, 2007)


(K. Trainer, Oct. 4, 2007; response to editorial of Sept. 28)


(Editorial, Oct. 8, 2007)


(Letter from Evangeline Su ’99, Oct. 9, 2007)


(Column by A. Grafton, Dec. 3, 2007)



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