The Medium is Not the Message

Posted on 07 October 2010

On October 10, 2010, the John Jermain Memorial Library turns 100 years old. At lot has happened in this village and the world since 1910, when Mrs. Russell Sage gifted upon Sag Harbor the building that continues to be the community’s gathering place for all things literary.

But these days, the library is also expected to be all things wireless and media-related too, a definite challenge in the confined (and crumbling) 1910 space in which library staff now find themselves operating. Which is why a renovation and expansion is in order, and on the centennial of the library’s founding, and with the start of construction not far off, it seems an appropirate time to revisit the structure and reconsider its place in society.

While there will always be those who feel the library shouldn’t try to grow to be anything more than what it’s always been, a place for printed materials, we disagree. In fact, historically, libraries have never been about books, but rather information.

In the early days, it was stone tablets and papyrus scrolls that were kept in the equivalent of Egypt’s ancient libraries. These were repositories of information if you will, and prone to change as did the technology. Books as we know them are a fairly new phenomenon in the scheme of recorded information and while we’re not ready to see their demise quite yet, it is obvious that the world is now moving into another realm.

From providing space for classes, wi-fi access for laptops and a business center for telecommuters to the Live-brary, with its free downloads of audio books, ebooks and video content and even 24-hour access to a remote librarian, it seems that, like it or not, libraries are moving in this higher tech direction. With plans for a much needed reonvation moving forward, we think the library is wise to plan now for how it will reinvent itself in the 21st century.

So this Sunday, as you join the library staff on the lawn of the Custom House for some celebratory ice cream and cake, we ask you to raise a fork to the foresight of the staff, and imagine this same celebration another 100 years down the road. Will Sag Harbor residents of 2110 be commending today’s library administrators for their ability to think ahead?

We certainly hope so.

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