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Marginalization of Marginalia

February 22, 2011

Two recent pieces have emphasized the marginalization of marginalia in our increasingly digital world.

Mark Sample at the Profhacker blog has an interesting post on Going Paperless at Conferences. In Mark’s case, the conference in question was the recent MLA and the paperless alternative was an iPad. His post has a technological rundown of apps used as well as a list of pros and cons for going paperless. The latter category was dominated by a lament of lost marginalia:

The chief disadvantage of presenting paperlessly isn’t the actual presentation. It’s what happens afterward, in the discussion period of the panel. I missed not being able to quickly jot down ideas and questions from the audience directly onto my paper. I can type fairly quickly on the iPad, but there’s nothing like leaving actual marginalia.

This gripe was especially poignant in light of a recent New York Times piece entitled “Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins.” The article highlights an upcoming symposium sponsored by the Caxton Club and the Newberry Library in Chicago entitled “Other People’s Books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell.” Marginalia and digital media loom larger there as well:

Not everyone values marginalia, said Paul Ruxin, a member of the Caxton Club. “If you think about the traditional view that the book is only about the text,” he said, “then this is kind of foolish, I suppose.”

David Spadafora, president of the Newberry, said marginalia enriched a book, as readers infer other meanings, and lends it historical context. “The digital revolution is a good thing for the physical object,” he said. As more people see historical artifacts in electronic form, “the more they’re going to want to encounter the real object.”

I’m not sure to what extent digital media fosters an appreciation of the material. It might just encourage the fetishizing of the text. However, I do wonder what will be lost with digitalization of all our marginal notes.

(HT: Exploring Our Matrix)

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