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September 28, 2016

Imagine-- millions upon millions of rare, fragile books, locked away in some darkened room in the back of some sparsely patronized library, never seeing the light of day, or perhaps more pointedly, never being pulled out and opened by human hands; never perused by human eyes-- forgotten, awaiting further decay and disappearing from existence.

Over the past generation or so, the answer to this nightmare scenario, for many concerned, was to digitize those forgotten books. Digitize them and create preservation quality image files that could be used for storing, reprinting or sharing; to be available via the ever expanding worldwide web.

Now imagine if you will--  millions of rare, fragile books, digitized, locked away in some computer hard drive, never being displayed on some computer monitor; metadata and/or hyperlinks never being accessed via a computer mouse or the click of a smartphone screen. Backlit words never being read by human eyes, forgotten and waiting for that day in the future where the hard drive malfunctions and those pages, in the form of fragile bits and bytes, simply disappear from existence.

Digitization matters, certainly, but accessibility may, perhaps, matter more. That is a valuable lesson to be learned, but perhaps the greatest lesson here lies not in preservation or even accessibility of the written word, but rather in our own ability to take time, seek out and find what we need in the present or what we may need in the future. Sometimes we may assume that everything that is known, or at least, everything that we deem worthy of being known can be easily accessed with a simple Google search. We may also assume that, upon encountering the information, we need not place it to permanent memory in the vast vaults of our own personal storage drive of gray matter, because if it is forgotten, we can just Google it again at a future date.

Knowledge is a continuous wellspring of past information and inspiration in which we reach in and take what we need in order to feed our intellectual needs at present and to bring to fruition the dreams and goals of our futures.

At one point in the not so distant past, mankind would wander far and wide over miles, countries and continents-- hours, days and years-- in search of knowledge. Most of us have heard the stories of a young Abraham Lincoln, living in the backwoods of southern Indiana, hastily striding miles through unbroken forest and field to borrow books from his “neighbor’s” collections. We might ask ourselves, “Would we undertake such a physically demanding quest nowadays, or has the universal and facile accessibility of knowledge and information via the internet cheapened perhaps not the knowledge itself, but the manner and methods in which it is eventually acquired? And if that is the case, could it be said that the value of knowledge may not only be in the words and sentences that are read , heard or otherwise understood, but also in the manner in which it was sought after and/or conveyed?

These are all fairly interesting questions to consider and ponder over, but the fact remains that more and more, we are relying on digital medium to find, collect, express, and propagate our thoughts and ideas, whether they are thousands of years old or merely a few seconds old. The key to making information accessible lies, fundamentally, in the tools and methods that we use to capture, preserve and share it—and acquisition of those tools and methods is increasingly sought by universities, libraries and businesses alike.

So, all sales pitches aside, next time you wander up to that bookscanning kiosk at your local library, intent on scanning a few pages of an age old, rebound reference book or flopping down in front of your favored computer screen, rapidily tapping in a keyword search into your preferred search engine to lay claim to an obscure tidbit of popular culture trivia, remember that it is your own inquisitive nature and, in a broader sense, the unending human quest for knowledge that gives real value to the complex and high-cost technologies that companies such as Kirtas provide-- technologies that serve to help obtain some (but not all) of the answers in which you seek.