Dr. Robert Darnton









There’s a timely discussion this Thursday for Memphis as the Memphis City Council has shown an interest in coming to grips with our seriously underfunded libraries and their crucial purpose in the future this city.

It’s taking place Thursday at 6 p.m. in the University Center theater at University of Memphis.

That’s when Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library at Harvard, will speak on Digitize or Democratize: Libraries, Books, and the Digital Future.

A reception will precede the lecture at 5:30 p.m. in the theatre lobby.  The event is free and open to the public, with parking available in the nearby Zach Curlin garage.

Mr. Darnton suggests that even in the current digital environment, books and libraries are more important than ever, and their importance will increase as we design the digital future—if only we can get right.

What is the future of books and libraries? One path leads through excessive commercialization, which means that in the long run, the public will cease to have access to most of the material that belongs in the public domain. Another path is to democratize access to knowledge. The Digital Public Library of America, which went online on April 18, exemplifies the possibilities of democratization. It is a distributed network of digitized collections from research libraries scattered across the U.S., and it aims to make America’s cultural heritage available, free of charge, to all Americans and in fact to everyone in the world.

Dr. Darnton is the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library at Harvard. Among his honors are a MacArthur Prize Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award, election to the French Legion of Honor, and the National Humanities Medal conferred by President Obama in February 2012. He has written and edited many books, including The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Prerevolutionary France, and The Case for Books.

His lecture is co-sponsored by the Helen Hardin Honors Program, the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, the Department of English, and the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment and the Spence L. Wilson Chair at Rhodes College.The next morning at 9:00 am, at Blount Auditorium at Rhodes College, Dr. Darnton will comment on a panel about “The Past and Future of the Book,” featuring Lukas Erne of the University of Geneva and Michael Witmore of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

To read an interview between Dr. Darnton and the Memphis Flyer, click here.