Only books can stir the imagination to ask the questions you hadn't thought of

As members of the Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association, we have dedicated at least a portion of our lives to the care and maintenance of used and rare books. Our shops preserve books and make them available to new readers.

So it's no surprise that we were horrified to learn of the proposal by the administration of our state's public university to eliminate physical books from the institutions they lead. To paraphrase Cicero, a library without books is like a body without a soul.

Learning should not be conflated with the mere acquisition of information, any more than a college education should end with learning any particular set of skills.

Rather, education - and the books that fill libraries (and, of course, our bookstores) - should be pathways to opening our minds, to developing our curiosity, and to the extraordinary pleasure of pursuing that curiosity to wherever it leads.

Information alone - whatever its format - simply cannot do this. The mission of any university is to teach its students how to learn and, if possible, to love learning.

We certainly acknowledge that the digitization of information, and the computers and internet which undergird it, provide enormous benefits not just to students and faculty, but to all. In our times, a university library without access to digital information is unthinkable, but by the same token so, too, is a library without books. This is not an either/or proposition.

It boils down to this. Digital information is a great way to get answers to the questions you've already asked, but only books can stir the imagination to ask the questions you hadn't thought of. Anyone who has tried to browse books on the internet understands this difference.

The book you were looking for may easily be found on the internet, but in a shop or a library, the book you came to find might be sitting next to the one you didn't know existed but ended up changing your life.

Let's give the last word to Stephen Fry: “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.”

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