The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

In Search of Connections


  Kevin Kelly articulates in “Scan this Book”, (New York Times, May 2006) the concept of the virtual library. The dream has always been to have “…in one place all knowledge, past and present” (Kelly, 2006, p.1). There are two common themes throughout the paper: one of access and the other of relationships. There are a number of hurdles presented, including ownership and copyright laws.

The universal library will change the concept of the book and the nature of what we call libraries (Kelly, 2006). “The collective intelligence of a library allows us to see things we can’t see in a single, isolated book” (Kelly, 2006, p. 5). Universal access will break down the barriers and change the concept of knowledge acquisition.

However, is having ‘all’ knowledge in one place realistic? Can we not find the knowledge we need already present on the Internet? Will greater access to text increase society’s wisdom and present knowledge and preserve our history and maintain our present culture? Is text we presently have available to us through the written work in libraries and on the Internet sufficient, or what is it lacking? These questions appear not to be answered in Kelly’s article.

There is a lot of information in this article, but I would like to focus on the access to virtual libraries, and their relationships with books and with people. The virtual library devises a new culture of interaction and participation, which changes how readers interact with books and the individual (Kelly, 2006).    


 Kelly explains that the universal library will be accessible to all. “We can provide all the works of humankind to all the people of the world. It will be an achievement remembered for all time, like putting the man on the moon.” (Kelly, 2006, p.1). He also reiterates that the process will be  “…truly democratic, offering every book to every person” (Kelly, 2006, p. 1). O’Donnell (n.d.) cites total inclusiveness and access to the virtual libraries as the ideal (p. 2). One needs to wonder how this process can truly be democratic when any country or individual who does not have the technology will not be able to access a universal library, or have a vote in the ‘democratic process’. Google has taken on the initiative to scan, and also glean the benefits, of creating a central location to accumulate all the knowledge and information of the world. With these ambitions come many barriers.

The digital divide continues to persist throughout the world. The article continues by telling the reader that the people who will most benefit will be the underserved by ordinary paperback books (Kelly, 2006). Countries and people who presently do not have access to libraries, or money to buy books will still not be able to access the virtual library as the technology, which costs money and resources to obtain, will still not be available. While those who do have access (equipment and the Internet), searching, creating and access will be inherently free.

The virtual library will allow a new infrastructure within a library setting. A reader will be able to access the library from anywhere and will be able to access multiple books at one time. With the mass production of the book came improved access to the written text. Mass production also provided the availability of cheap books to individuals (individual ownership) and libraries now had a large quantity of books at their disposal (Kelly, 2006).


Digital libraries will keep books and people connected in new and various ways to each other. This is inherently done through the ‘link’ and the ‘tag’, which are considered one of the most important inventions of the last 50 years (Kelly, 2006). By linking pages, each book can refer to multiple other books. Bibliographies and references can be automatically linked to other bibliography and reference lists, making it easier to research and follow a theme, topic or idea. Books will now have relationships with each other. “The process can continue indefinitely as the reader moves through textual space that, in the case of the World Wide Web, can extend throughout the Internet”(Bolter, 2001, p.27). The interlinking of information forms communities of knowledge that are linked with new meaning and worth.

When books are interconnected, four things occur:

  1. Books on the fringes will find a wider audience
  2. History will be recorded
  3. Society will cultivate a new sense of authority
  4. A new infrastructure will develop, allowing never seen before services and functions (Kelly, 2006).

Hypertext also allows various connections and associations. “The connections of a hypertext constitute paths of meaning for the author and for the reader. Each topic may participate in several paths, and its significance will depend on which paths the reader has traveled in order to arrive at that topic” (Bolter, 2001, p. 35). With hypertext the writers and creators can now interact, create and communicate with a computer screen that has no equivalent in oral language (Bolter, 2001). Along with hypertext comes the significance of ‘search’.

The function of search has altered the concept of knowledge acquisition. Search adds social and inherent value to what you are looking for (Kelly, 2006) and creates connections as new information is linked with existing information. Searching allows access and gives the reader the control and freedom of discovery.


Kelly states that there are a number of barriers that are present to block the universal digital library from occurring; including lack of books, copyrights, intellectual property laws and the very logistics of scanning a copious amount of books. Presently there is a lawsuit against Google for copyright infringement as laws surrounding intellectual property, particularly of the deceased, continue to burden Google’s objectives.


Many books add more value than one book. The task of organizing all knowledge and information is an onerous one. Linking text with tags, hypertext and search functions allow relationships between readers and text. Organizing knowledge to be easily accessible and at the same time to prevent obscurity, is an arduous task which is laden with barriers. Is it a realistic goal to bundle all knowledge in one place? Only Google has the answer.


Bolter, D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kelly, K. (May 2006). Scan this Book. The New York Times.

O’Donnel, J. (n.d.). The Virtual Library: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed. Retrieved from

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.29.09 at 8:57 am }

You say that “Only Google has the answer.” Do you think a monopoly is a good idea.?

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