well ladies and gentlemen welcome to the first of this term’s uh lunchtime lectures hosted by the friends owing to unavoidable circumstances we must continue for a while to operate uh remotely but we are doing everything we can to maintain a sense of community and i think one of the things we’re finding in this remote operation is that more people are able to participate so there are benefits as well as losses members will recently have received the splendidly produced newsletter bringing you up to date with library news and developments and we will keep in touch as the term goes on as circumstances change now today we have a splendid event in store and a speaker who certainly needs no introduction but who richly deserves one because our speaker could be described as bodily’s best friend richard ovenden has been bodily as librarian since 2014 and he moved to the bodily in 2003 as keeper of special collections becoming deputy librarian in 2011 under sarah thomas he came to the bodily with wide and diverse experience having held positions at durham university library the house of lords library the national library of scotland and the university of edinburgh and his achievements have been recognized with many public honors er today he is a professorial fellow at bailey college and he’s fellow of the society of antiquities and the royal society of arts and he’s treasurer of the consortium of european research libraries and president of the digital preservation coalition and most recently in 2019 he was awarded the obe for his services to the bodily and librarianship and he will address us today on the subject of his recent monograph burning the books a history of knowledge under attack so uh please give him same warm welcome you would as if we were operating in person thank you richard thank you very much indeed uh richard it’s uh friends it’s a great pleasure for me to come and speak to you today it’s been a long time since i’ve spoken to the friends um and long overdue in fact so i’m absolutely delighted to have this opportunity to speak with you i’d like to talk to you about the book which i published earlier this month and the reasons why i think the topic is important and timely but also i hope you’ll find some of the case studies which i bring into the book and which i’m going to talk to you about today i’m also interesting so i take my cue from george orwell and um the backdrop to uh the book and uh therefore to this lecture is really some of the warnings that he put into his famous uh novel 1984 and i think that are now incredibly timely in the the times in which we’re living there was truth and there was untruth and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world you are not mad and really although my book is entitled a history of knowledge under attack it’s really about the importance the social importance of the preservation of knowledge and i think of libraries and archives as institutions that help us cling to the truth and one of the particular triggers for me writing the book was of course back in january 2017 the inauguration of president trump and the allegations that were made by kellyanne conway that um against the um the facts that he had fewer people attend his inauguration than had attended uh president obama’s that that they were and i quote alternative facts the other backdrop which caused me to write the book was the incidence of the burning the destruction of the landing records of the windrush generation by the home office in 2010 at the same time that the home office were instigating their hostile environment against our fellow citizens um 80 at least 80 of whom were unlawfully deported based on the fact that they lacked the knowledge who proved that their right to remain whereas in fact the home office all this time had not only um the possession of the landing cards

um that could prove their right to remain but actually chose to destroy them the other um backdrop um has been my sort of concern more generally that um knowledge in particularly in the digital age is under attack like it has been at various moments in history and here of course is the famous incident um on the 10th of may 1933 where um the nazis had a kind of ritualistic book burning uh across germany but uh centered in particular on this kind of very important site in on unto den linden and and i visited it um in 2018 um on a business trip to berlin and saw the kind of contemporary commemoration um of that uh of that event so with that backdrop what i decided to do was to um go back through time go back through history and to look at what lessons we can learn from previous historic attacks on knowledge and what what lessons we can learn from it today and what it what it tells us about the the importance of the preservation of knowledge and the institutions of libraries and archives that society has entrusted that role too and um i i was fortunate in going to visit the british museum’s wonderful exhibition i am ashurbanipal a couple of years ago and was really struck i hadn’t really encountered um the knowledge preserved in libraries and archives in ancient mesopotamia so it was really a kind of a real kind of revelation for me um at the time and i was absolutely delighted to find that our sister institution the ashmolean museum has fabulous holdings of cuneiform tablets here are a few which paul collins my colleague in the ashmolean kindly looked out for me to um to to to consult while i was working on the book but right i don’t know if many of you saw that exhibition the british museum but right in the heart of it was a library um in a museum exhibition it’s quite surprising to see this incredible library of stone tablets formed by ashaban nepal and looking at in more detail going to read up going to talk to my colleagues about the history of libraries and archives it became clear that not only were they um absolutely vital parts of society going back um um you know really um five cent five millennia ago but they were also formed through um acts of destruction and deliberate theft and deliberate breaking up of other libraries and ashurbanipal’s library itself was formed partly by hostile acts which he instigated against libraries in his enemy state of babylonia there are accession records which show that he was deliberately targeting libraries and archives in in neighboring states and sending his agents to go um either forcibly or through diplomacy to to seize uh collections from other libraries to build his own um knowledge base up and part of the the content of these ancient libraries um was actually about the prediction of the future about astronomy astrology divination and that’s something i’d like you to hold on to that the sense that libraries control um important knowledge that um brings power to you if you’re able to take knowledge away from your enemy you’re not only making them weaker but they’re you’re making yourself stronger in your ability to predict the future and of course um there’s a our knowledge of these libraries and archives and has been principally since the middle of the 19th century when a series of excavations uh begun by uh french archaeologists or not that they would have called themselves that at the time and then most importantly by a brit austin henry layard who um had did amazing excavations in the ancient capitals of nimrod and nineveh in what is now um uh iraq and brought tens of thousands of tablets um the contents of these ancient libraries and archives back to the british museum and there have been many and here’s a kind of contemporary view of the great mound of kuyunyik where um many of these tablets were unearthed by layard and and then brought brought back to the british museum he was known as the lion

of nineveh he became incredibly um famous at the time i’d like us to do a bit of time travel now um further um through history to one of my other case studies which is um the library of glastonbury abbey um in the 16th century and the particular figure i’d like us to focus on is john leland leland was um an incredible character he was um you know he doesn’t feature in hilary mantel’s great trilogy but he really ought to have done um educated both at cambridge and oxford and then later at the university of paris he became steeped in humanism and very interested in investigating primary sources of the past and he was given a task by henry viii to uh investigate libraries um uh as part of uh henry’s um so-called great matter the the search for information to help him win his case uh for the divorce of catherine of aragon and to enable him to marry ann berlin and this this commission he was given was a most gracious commission to peruse and most diligently search all the libraries of the monasteries and colleges in the country and so this great um this great figure this great sort of proto-historian was given a royal warrant essentially to travel the country and in the bodily units one of our great uh collections is the archive of john leland and um in the archive um uh you can find these uh these maps of his journeys the so-called itineraries of john leland and you know these are extraordinary this is um you can just see um the humber estuary so you can see lincolnshire and east yorkshire on the screen and with the monastic sites which he visited and then um made detailed notes of the books that he saw and um these were incredible journeys he he gave us really an extraordinary snapshot of the the medieval libraries of britain on the eve of the reformation even though he didn’t realize um that he was party to their destruction so let’s take us to to glastonbury these are my rather amateurish photographs of what remains of glastonbury abbey at the time it really was one of the most important religious houses in the country in size it was actually bigger even than canterbury cathedral and it was of course a great uh pilgrimage site um with uh associations to um the mythical um king arthur to merlin and to joseph for arimathea so it attracted great wealth um many donations but also built up an extraordinary library and it was one of the libraries that leland was most excited to go visit and this is more or less where the library would have been um off off the cloister and leland actually gives us uh a picture a a description of him coming to visit the library 1533 or 1534 and if you’re excuse me i’m going to i’m going to quote um i had hardly crossed the threshold he wrote when the mere sight of the most ancient books left me awestruck stupefied in fact he writes so he was literally swooned just at the mere sight of these ancient books um in the library and he became great friends with the abbot uh richard whiting who’s in fact the last habit of glastonbury and he recalls in his in his notes um how generous uh writing was in showing him books and giving him hospitality in his visit and um he leaves us notes of the books that he looked at some of them were ancient chronicles which were to help prove that there was a viable church of england before church in england before the norman conquest sort of in opposition to kind of papal authority but also lots of um sources which helped him unearth the history of king arthur but also there he found a book which he was greatly interested in which was this one again i’m very fortunate to have it in bodley um it’s now known as saint dunstan’s class book and it’s actually a miscellany there are four um volumes in it dating from the ninth to the eleventh century three of which were almost certainly uh owned or used by saint dunstan abbott of glastonbury and then later archbishop of canterbury and a very important figure in

the reform um uh and modernization of the church in england um in in the in the ninth century and um here we can see actually there’s a there’s a there’s an image of susan dunstan kneeling at the foot of christ and here we can see um a list of some of the books that that leland consulted in glass in the library glastonbury abbey and right at the bottom you see gramatica eutychies lieber olin sanctitude dunstani so um you know we we have we know that the book was in in the the library at glastonbury in 1249 when there was a medieval catalogue and then we see in 1533 1534 uh as uh leland actually consulting that volume and now it’s it’s with us here in oxford in in the boglian now of course what um what happened is um absolutely tragic for the library of glastonbury abbey um uh the in 1539 um we have um a visitation of the commissioners following uh the act for the suppression of the greater monasteries and the commissioners come to visit uh glastonbury abbey and abbott wyatting and they present trump top charges that he robbed the church of glastonbury of treasure and he was duly tried taken up to glastonbury tour after being dragged through the town on a hurdle and there he was hung drawn and quartered and bits of his body were placed in neighboring towns um wells duke’s wells taunton and glastonbury itself so um not a very happy end but then of course the the monastery itself was dismantled and the books um we don’t know exactly how many how many there were in 1533 1534 when when when leland visited but they were probably um an estimate i would say probably about around 1500 we have 60 left and so the books were dismembered and from contemporary accounts we know that they were many of them were torn up and sold some salted grocers and soap sellers said leland’s friend john bale um some they sent overseas to book binders so these these volumes cease to have value um other than as waste material and so um we are very lucky to have um a number of books from the medieval library at glastonbury which have come through the activities of antiquaries and many of these antiquaries became um part of a reaction against uh the destruction of the reformation which thomas bodley um was was was a key figure in so i’d like to see the history of the bodleian as actually a reaction against the destruction of knowledge in the generation before um in the reformation and bodily’s institution was important because it dedicated itself to preservation because he saw himself bodily and the founding statutes of the library um placing preservation absolutely at the heart of the library’s mission but also access so it wasn’t just preservation it was designed for access as well and the fact that he disinherited well that he directed all of his funding his his own wealth to endow the library to uh for officers saipin the augmentation of books and other pertinent occasions um gives a sense that he wanted his institution to endure and not to suffer um as as many libraries had done during during the reformation i’d like us to move forward now into the 19th century to another episode of the destruction of knowledge and that’s the the burning of the library of congress and i’d like you to uh to introduce you to sir george coburn admiral coburn who um uh led a british expeditionary force to um the the united states to the former colonies and this mezzo tint um in the background has this most extraordinary picture of the burning of washington um in august 2014. and i’d like to quote you from another oxford figure a balea alum called george gleig who wrote who was there at the time and he wrote i do not recollect to see more striking or sublime than the burning of washington but he also um was rather ashamed that his uh the the troops of which he was one um also set fire to a noble library several printing offices and all the national archives which were committed to the flames which um might better have been spared he thought

and so um the the destruction of the library and here’s a here’s a view of the capitol building which housed the um the senate and the house of representatives and the the the library itself um after the fire it was actually the only stone building in washington at the time and it housed the only library in the city and the library of congress had been founded in 1800 um the first librarian report appointed a few years later and the library had been slowly built up um to the point in 1814 when uh the war with britain triggered the invasion the the collection was a very useful uh opportunity to s to start the fire uh the troops that entered it found uh plenty of combustible material and the whole building was subsequently demolished and this became a kind of act of notoriety in in america at the time we actually have uh one of the books which was saved and taken as a souvenir by the british troops it’s taken by admiral coburn possibly taken by a soldier and given to coburn and he then passed it to his brother sir james coburn who was governor of bermuda but there’s an inscription at the bottom of the the 19th century one which records and now the sixth day of january 1940 after 126 years restored to the library of congress by asw rosenbach the great the great the great rare book dealer so here’s he is really the only book that survives from the pre-fire library of congress but actually what happened um after uh or the the events of august 2014 was another reaction against it and that reaction came from thomas jefferson one of the founding fathers of the united states who had retired to his estate at monticello in virginia heard about the fire and wrote absolutely scorching letter to a national newspaper in washington saying that this was an act of barbarism and he offered his own library really the greatest private luck collection in the united states at the time um to be purchased note that it wasn’t a gift but he saw an opportunity to solve some of his own financial problems and his uh he ended up selling six and a half thousand volumes for the princely summer twenty four thousand dollars uh quite an enormous sum at the time but it gave the new library congress an absolutely head start with vital books for government to use to help it manage its national affairs unfortunately this library then suffered another accidental fire in 1851 and the result of that congress voted much much bigger funds to rebuild the library of congress and make it the great institution that it is today but the burning of the of the library remained uh an important kind of part of the national myth of the united states long into the 19th century here’s a here’s a woodcut from harper’s magazine in the 1870s showing how it’s still a kind of national story of their defiance against their former colonial overlords but just to show that there’s no um hard feelings here’s me and the current librarian of congress carla hayden we’re now the best of friends a century on from the destruction of the library of congress there’s another important attack on knowledge which became an international incident in the way that the burning of the library of congress really didn’t and that’s the destruction of the library of louvain university the catholic university of louisville in 1914 german troops soon after the the start of the war entered neutral belgium they occupied luvan and again in august 2014 um they um set fire to the historic center of leuven started it with the university library which was destroyed for almost all the collections uh went up in in in flames uh collections which dated back the university library really dates back as an institution to the 1630 1630s it was refounded in 1835 it became one of a number of legal deposit libraries for uh the new country of belgium and uh the event uh triggered an into as i was saying an international outrage here’s a uh here’s a scene of the wreckage of the library um and all over the world uh this is from an irish newspaper but this this slide could have been taken from any number of countries where they were absolutely horrified and sent messages of their kind of disgust at the acts of um the acts of the german troops on that night um a crime against the world you know the the destruction of the library of

alexandria was it was evoked and um but one of the interesting things i found about this story was again the reaction against it so there’s this international movement to raise funds and to raise books to give to the library it becomes a special clause in the treaty of versailles and the americans take it as an opportunity for soft power in europe after first the first world war and this task is led by nicholas butler the president of columbia university some of you may have visited the butler library in colombia which is uh named after him and here is an architect’s drawing of the the rebuilt library really modeled on the the original library just really a kind of a pastiche or facsimile of that original building which the americans pledged to raise money for and you can see in this architect’s drawing just that little cartouche at the bottom destroyed by the germans 1914 restored by america 1922. so this is an important opportunity for america to influence european affairs but actually it takes them much longer to raise the money than they had originally planned and by the time that they finished raising the money in the middle of the 1920s um the the post-war diplomacy between belgium and germany had begun to see a sort of burying of the hatchet and the the acts in luvan in 1914 began begun to be deliberately ignored or forgotten and the fact that the americans want to have a big grand opening ceremony with a massive plaque and saying this this phrase actually in latin that the the building was destroyed by the germans were rebuilt by the americans um becomes a national uh point of tension and the american architects put the this plaque up several times and local belgians climb up in the middle of the night and smash the plaque because they don’t want it to uh color uh the relations that they have with their neighbors and eventually the plaque is removed and placed in a war memorial and and the library uh becomes gets finished rebuilt and modernized um and here you can see um this is um uh a little search i put the term luvanne into google books engram viewer you can see the number of times that luvan is cited um in the second part of the the the teens of the 20th century you can see how how important it is but sadly in 1940 the library is destroyed a second time by the germans this time our artillery um targeted on the library sees it destroyed and it then has to be rebuilt after world war ii again but again they choose to rebuild it in the same original vernacular style and here it is today um still a a library room the holocaust i think is one of the episodes in history where the most uh destruction of knowledge takes place i think scholars have estimated that around 100 million books from jewish communities were destroyed in the holocaust and but there’s one particular episode that i think is really interesting in harking the the importance of preserving knowledge and how individuals and communities take this task so seriously that they’re willing to risk their lives to preserve knowledge so vilna or modern day vilnius in lithuania is um at the beginning of the 20th century one of the great centres of jewish civilization um and it’s also a city full of books and archives and importantly in 1925 it becomes the center of the establishment of a a research institute into yiddish culture into the cultural life of everyday judaism um in central and eastern europe with an institute called yevo and yevo begins to collect oral histories documents publications and they built a a very important archive and then of course in 1939 um lithuanian the other baltic states and poland are divided between germany and and russia and then in um in 1942 the germans invade um and take seize vilna and they seize the collections the jewish collections and begin to sort them they put they forced the jews to live in the ghetto and they choose a number of former librarians and archivists and other intellectuals to have the horrible task at gunpoint of sorting through these great jewish libraries and archives sending original material back back to frankfurt to alfred rosenberg’s

hideous institute for the study of the jews and the rest of the material go to a local paper mill for destruction and uh some of the contents of those archives include things like uh yiddish theater and yiddish music um the the diaries of uh theodore herzl the the great zionist um but also um they collect um uh items from the ghetto itself uh like like the the famous star that jews were forced to wear and documents were were treated with with the utmost contempt he’s a a part of a talmud talmudic scroll that is reused um hideously as a as a as a canvas for a picture of uh arthur seis inkfart one of the uh uh one of the worst uh of the nazis um but the um the the task that the the jews who are forced to do this sorting of collections in vilna and they they became known as the paper brigade and what they did was to smuggle um items from the collections back into the ghetto and they hid them inside the ghetto itself and here is an image of a number of the members of the paper brigade a few of them managed to escape when the ville negeta was liquidated in in 1944 and they they came back after the russians liberated vilna and they’ve dug up some of the the collections actually tens of thousands of documents they managed to hide and um and here they are rescuing some some of those collections and here’s another member of um the paper brigade dina abramovitz who was the librarian of the library in the vilna ghetto and she and others managed to leave um uh uh lithuania as the soviet the communist regime begins to um behave in in a in a remarkably similar way to the nazis to um to to seek to destroy the archives they regard the archives as uh subversive and they um they they begin our hostile acts against the collections of books which the paper brigade had had survived and uh dina leaves and goes to the reestablished yevo institute in new york and this this effort to preserve the the documentary heritage the wit the documentary witnesses of jewish life were not just happening in vilna it happened in other centers in eastern europe as well in warsaw in the warsaw ghetto an archive was made by an organization called oyeg shabes led by an extraordinary man called irwin ringlebloom who was uh murdered in the holocaust but um he had managed to hide and bury uh documents which he had his fellow members had saved and these were were dug up afterwards in metal cart cartons and milk canisters some of the documents which had found their way to rosenberg’s institute in frankfurt were seized by american forces and were sent back to new york and here they are arriving in 1947 the yevo institute staff here are working through the packing cases looking at the documents which have been somewhat perversely preserved by the nazis but the other documents which have been sent to um the paper mills by the soviets the the materials that have been saved by the paper brigade and then sent for destruction again by the soviets were actually saved a further time this time by a lithuanian librarian called antonas ulpis and orpis saved these documents by going to the paper mills and turning the trucks around and driving one of them back himself and he hid them in a church that had been requisitioned as one of the storage sites for the new national library of lithuania and he he squealed these documents away in organ pipes in in other locations and they only became revealed after um opus’s death in 1989 as the iron curtain came down and they announced one of the great treasures of the national library of lithuania and are being digitized by the yevo institute in new york at the moment you can see them on the yevo website and here they are in new york in the stacks of of the yevo institute the material that had come back from from frankfurt very properly archived um i’d like to talk just very briefly about um

a more recent attack on knowledge and again one which um really is in living memory uh i remember um uh the uh the conflicts in the former yugoslavia in the 1990s my brother was part of the of the um peacekeeping force in kosovo um but really it’s shocking to see these pictures that here is the national library of bosnia in sarajevo deliberately targeted by serbian shells and not just uh you know no other buildings were targeted on this day august the 25th um 1992 and there were incendiary devices and the fire brigade um that was sent to um put the fires out were targeted by snipers and shockingly i went to look at the newspapers at the time and um you didn’t even get onto the front page of the of the newspapers the story is kind of buried inside the papers um and again it’s the building that gets the focus not actually the library itself and the library is important because it’s a symbol of the multicultural community that sarajevo and bosnia had managed to preserve um with muslims jews and christians all living more or less happily together but something which um the serbs sought to actually eradicate um the records of this and it wasn’t just the national library that was targeted at the time provincial archives and land registries were also destroyed by serbian forces trying to eliminate any record of of muslim land ownership um and uh another librarian uh uh called andres riedelmeier he’s still a a professional librarian at harvard at the fine art library in harvard and he dedicated some of his time and the harvard allowed him gave him time to help to investigate what had happened to libraries and archives in um in bosnia and he actually gave evidence at the trial in the international war crimes tribunal in the hague um for the trial of milosevic and for other war criminals and he is he is part of his his testimony um both about the size and importance cultural importance of the national library but also the the lengths that were gone to by serbs to destroy the knowledge um here it’s a great symbol of um the power of the book as a kind of national cultural symbol symbol the famous sarajevo haggadah which had survived not only the holocaust of the middle of the 20th century but at the attack the serbian attacks in the 1990s and is one of the great treasures of the of of bosnia still today my final kind of case study is actually the the the national archives of iraq which in tucson 2003 as the american forces occupied baghdad um an iraqi expatriate called kenan makiya stumbled upon the archives of the bath party the ruling party and um iraq descended into civil war in in the the the following months he started a process to preserve this very very important archive as a way of helping to describe what had happened to his country under saddam’s rule and um eventually the american for uh the american government uh took the archive a wave out of uh baghdad and um it was taken back to america it was digitized to um search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction which of course they didn’t find in the archive but this important collection actually um has been in america until the last month and so i talk about it in the book because it was it was published before it was sent to the press before the collection was actually returned to iraq which happened in early september but um the collection to me being outside of iraq was stopping the iraqi people from actually confronting their own difficult past and um and being able to address what had happened it was stored from between 2006 and 2020 in the hoover institute in the hoover’s archives in stanford university so i’m going to end by looking a little bit at digital destruction and of course at the moment we’re going through this kind of profound shift um in the way that knowledge is both created and shared and stored and as a society we are kind of outsourcing the storage of social memory to the big technology companies what our great oxford historian timothy gartner calls the private superpowers but of course

this is a very dangerous thing these free services aren’t really free and we find increasing number of incidents of that free inverted comma storage being uh terminated and people losing access to uh collections which had they’ve been placed there and of course there are hostile attacks too the cyber warfare happening here’s uh one incident against the internet archive the great kind of um uh private web archive based in the presidio and and in wikipedia you find um uh there’s been sort of very interesting well-documented incidents of uh mps of all political parties who had been subject to um uh the expenses scandal actually rewriting their own wikipedia or getting their office staff to rewrite their own wikipedia entries to delete any message any reference to um the expenses scandal and wikipedia are now tracking this to reinsert those statements um and of course this uh the preservation knowledge is incredibly important for an open society and um the harvard law library did a survey a few years ago at the um the decisions of the supreme court in the united states at the website where all these decisions are now published and found uh um in 2011 that 40 of the the links on that website were broken that didn’t lead you to any uh to to anywhere and then in more recent times we’ve seen um cambridge analytica actually using um uh the information that’s on um that we all create by uh every time that we search on it use a search engine use facebook uh click like on social media and so on um actually using these um to influence um these these digital profiles of us all which are traded every day um for uh to sell for influencing political um political uh agendas and it’s the sort of data that was created by the advertising industry i can assure you i don’t drive a bmw but i did a little test here i searched for bmws and then a few minutes later i went on to the guardian newspaper website lo and behold the adverts that came up were all for trying to sell me a bmw so it just goes to show the power of the the ad tech industry and of course this is becoming increasingly important as i don’t know whether any of you wear a fitbit or use an apple watch to track your digital health but of course what this data is doing is sending information about your health to these private tech companies you can look at it yourself but it’s being harvested and gathered by those companies now and um it’s helping them predict your future health so it takes us back to ancient mesopotamia and the power of knowledge to predict the future and who knows what this information could be used for could it be used to inform your health insurer perhaps or in a hostile state you could imagine governments deciding whether or not to allocate scarce resources for say higher education to someone who the health data says might not live beyond the age of i don’t know 30 or 40 so this kind of element of public knowledge i end my book in trying to draw attention to the social importance of it and to things like web archiving um here’s the uk web archive that we’re um part of here at the bodily and with the other legal deposit libraries um and again here’s a chart which shows just how fragile uh the web is as as as a medium as a platform for information um how how quickly information it vanishes and from the from the open web and then of course we have um uh incidents right now in the in the in the teeth of the uh american election campaign we have um politicians like donald trump who are who use social media very very uh effectively but of course he he is uh a frequent deleter of of his tweets and one of those tweets i’m afraid i should have put it up after the revelations of yesterday um that he deleted was about his own his own tax affairs um of a few years ago so uh highly topical i’m going to end um a couple of minutes late um with another um warning from george orwell the past was erased the eurasia was forgotten the lie became truth ladies and gentlemen my thesis in

in the book is that in order to protect society we need libraries and archives more than we ever have thank you very much for listening thank you so i hope you can hear me now but uh thank you richard for that really absolutely fascinating uh lecture because uh it’s wide chronological spread going from the ancient world right up to donald trump i think it’s very hard to would be hard to to rival and as you were speaking i kept thinking about those librarians in timbuktu who risked their lives to get all of those precious islamic manuscripts out before before isis could could get there and i thought perhaps we could start the questions by asking you whether you thought that digitization was actually providing a means of combating all of this uh you’ve spoken of of the difficulties of the the electronic media but there must be advantages as well because i think the the manuscripts from timbuktu were in fact taken away to be digitized quite recently uh absolutely i think digitization is uh one of the tools which um libraries and archives and and society as a whole can use um to help preserve knowledge um i think it’s more to me it’s more of a a medium for sharing knowledge for making knowledge available because it only transfers the preservation task on one format to another just by digitizing a fragile original it just means you’ve got a digital object then that needs preservation and i think that’s something that has been forgotten and wearing my hat as president of the digital preservation coalition um the challenges of preserving the digi the digital surrogates are just as precision in some cases even more so than the challenges of preserving uh paper paper and parchment for example but in certainly in the cases um you know one of the uh the case studies i use in the book is the the zadie community in yemen so there’s been a fantastic international effort to help digitize uh library collections which are being targeted um in in that part of the world there are many other examples the endangered archive programme of the arcadia foundation is another kind of really important um step in that in that preservation task but we mustn’t forget that it actually creates something else that needs preserving yes indeed thank you we we have some comments on the on the chat at the moment um we have one from maikini asking is the replacement of book purchase and ownership by ebook access and uh revocable licensing a current threat to the preservation of knowledge um well that’s a slightly different topic to the one i use in my i have in my book uh mike but it’s a it’s a good question i think it i think it it’s important to recognize that when we move from a if you like an owning uh model to one where we’re renting knowledge that we have to have other systems in place to preserve that content and the library community again very collaborative community has put methods in place there’s an organization called portico which preserves ebook content and libraries pay a share of the cost of preserving that and there’s another system called locks which is an acronym that stands for lots of copies keep stuff safe uh and that system again which is a collaborative network of libraries around the world which preserves uh content so i think it it can be it can be a threat through the legal deposit libraries we’re um preserving ebook content that comes from uk publishers um so you’re right it is uh it is a risk but i i think i i i think the library community knows about it and understands it and is doing good things to mitigate it we have another interesting question from carolyn holter who says that given the plethora of unreliable sources and the spread of misinformation online could the major libraries of the world do anything to help citizens develop better information literacy literacy skills i think that’s a really important point um i think it is we need to be doing much much more to educate young people about how the the world of digital information works how the provenance of information is important how to tell distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources how to tell whether a seemingly reliable source has in fact been manipulated and i think this we already

have an information and skills program for example in the bodleian where we do some of this work but i think we actually need to do much much more of it it needs to be embedded in the school’s curriculum much more and we need to um allow librarians to do much more of this kind of pedagogical work um so i i think it’s an absolutely kind of key issue we have a question from uh mary pritchard who asks who in the future can be trusted to conserve knowledge the beleaguered state corporations philanthropists or local communities all of the above marry i think um i think that’s part of the reason why i wrote the book which is aimed not at a scholarly audience but at a kind of general audience and to some extent again at decision makers and i think i encourage everyone to kind of place the work of libraries and archives on the agenda when you speak to prospective candidates for election and if you’re so moved to write your mp to say how important these these issues are um of course we need to stir up other men’s benevolence as thomas bodley instructed his librarian uh to do in the early 17th century and my my predecessors have all done um you know phenomenally well um i think one of the solutions to this that i posit in my book and i i i posited it in in articles in uh earlier is a memory tax on the big technology companies um you know they they they’re extremely adept at avoiding um paying tax in numerous regimes around the world um but i think if we could have an international effort to um place a tax that enables libraries and archives to resource the particularly challenging task of digital preservation i think that would be one important step that we could take i think there are some people who would like to ask for their own questions so perhaps we could invite uh people uh someone to come forward and unmute and and ask a question directly thank you very much i enjoyed that talk it was it was wonderful um i just wanted to ask you what you think of censorship the what i would consider now uh censorship online sort of like a modern day book burning yes well uh i think i think censorship is um a a big problem across uh across the globe and um i think that i i’m not sure it is the same as book burning um yeah i mean i think there is a kind of a qualitative difference if i can put it between the actual destruction of knowledge and the suppression of knowledge um uh but i i think it is a tool that’s increasingly being used by authoritarian regimes and i actually place um the preservation of knowledge alongside um other pillars of an open society alongside the freedom of speech free elections independent judiciaries okay because you mentioned um i think it was the abol of the bosnian library when it was destroyed you said the next day it didn’t even make like the covers of the papers um and i wonder if you were aware that there was a german doctor arrested um on saturday after the protests for speaking at speaker’s corner and that didn’t make the papers the next day right yeah no i wasn’t aware of that right okay that’s interesting i just thought it was quite relevant that um that you didn’t that you mentioned misinformation but that you didn’t mention censorship and that um for instance i mean i would doesn’t surprise me that you weren’t aware that this kind of imminent doctor who’d come over from germany um you know was giving an important speech at speaker’s corner in hyde park and was arrested and put into custody and stayed overnight and it didn’t really even make any of the national newspapers or you know even someone like you doesn’t know about it yeah well um you know uh and and ironic that that we’re actually speaking in bamboo week yeah i i shall go and look it up yes dr um dr heiko uh shoning okay thank you have time i think for a few more questions perhaps anyone else would like to to ask richard something um i see someone in the chat has uh spotted that there’s a slightly different uh us edition so um they’re actually um my u.s publishers harvard university press have decided on a different subtitle

and a different book jacket and that one comes out in the middle of november so it’s one for the bibliographers to get sort of um excited over i think again one of the other um points i try to raise in the book is the kind of the the danger of forgetting history and i think this is important not not only for communities to the sense of communities their own identity whether that’s cultural identity religious identity or even just kind of knowledge of your kind of local community but also the sense of you know many of the the incidents that happen in our current time have happened before and that there are kind of lessons that we can learn from history and i think it’s um you know libraries and archives have that obviously kind of historical role to play but it’s not an antiquarian history it’s not an antiquarian role it’s not a purely sort of um uh kind of abstract uh thing that that these organizations and the collections that they preserve do for society i think it’s absolutely at the heart of what makes us human beings and i think we we should um embrace that much much much more than we do and uh i think it’s just part of the role that libras and archives play in society today um there’s a question in the chat line um about the role of fiction in terms of the preservation of knowledge um and i’m not quite sure whether your question is about whether we should be preserving um fiction in libraries which i absolutely think we should or whether there’s a role that um kind of fictional stories can play um perhaps it’s the latter point that you’re trying to make i don’t know whether um you know things like that the name of the rose of course which features a library that that is deliberately destroyed um uh you know that there are other kind of uh accounts um in in his um uh in in literature of of that um of of of that how does fiction play a role within the preservation of knowledge um yeah i’m not uh uh i i i’m i i i think it helps us kind of picture it can i think fiction can help us um understand that it’s its importance um what what we lose when we lose a library or an archive um do the uyghurs have a national library um this is something which i don’t think there is a national library but there certainly have been libraries which um have been targeted by the chinese it’s just something that i’m just um have be have been sort of peripherally aware of i think one of the things that i found in the book is that actually depressingly i could have included many more famous um uh accounts of the destruction of knowledge and i i i chose to kind of you know i couldn’t i could have you know written several volumes um of other accounts you know ireland uh for example or you know uh the in timbuktu and mali uh al-qaeda um you know there are many many other kind of uh accounts um and so i i i i choose around a dozen to to focus um attention on and i agree with um jocelyn emsley’s uh recommendation about susan orlian’s book the library book which i thought was really really excellent excellent read highly recommended can i just once again on behalf of everyone thank richard for this really excellent and exceptionally detailed uh talk which has raised so many issues that are all too topical um at at the moment and i think one of the things for me that comes out of it is how grateful we should be did you come free and thomas bodley for giving us uh the archive that we we have i i couldn’t help thinking when richard described the way in which leland swooned when he saw glastonbury library the um reaction of so many visitors i’ve brought to the duke humphreys reading room when they’ve seen it for the first time it is rather like that it is great sense of wonder at seeing all these wonderful uh books gathered together here and knowing that they are accessible to everyone so on behalf of everyone richard i’d like to thank you once again and finally for a wonderful lecture and i’m sure in fact we’ll continue these discussions amongst ourselves and for a long time to come afterwards thank you thank you very much indeed thank you everyone for

um joining uh this event um you know the friends of the bottling is an organization i’ve been a member of since um i think 1985 and um you all mean an enormous amount to me and my colleagues here in the library so very very much look forward to chinking a glass with you when it’s safe to do so again uh hopefully not in the not too distant future thank you