View from the Hill
Scottish poet Douglas Dunn, author of several collections of poetry including the award-winning Elegies in 1985, is currently Professor of English at the University of St Andrews. Stepping into his book-filled office on a sparkling December morning, it took me a moment or two to spot the PC, only partly visible behind a mountain of textbooks. "My glorified typewriter" is how Dunn refers to it.
He is nonetheless fully aware of the Internet, although he refuses to use electronic mail, asserting that he has more than enough mail to deal with already (a glance at his desk providing the proof). Humanities resources online still have to prove their worth. "Reading Shakespeare on a PC somehow gets up my nose" he confided. However, several of the staff in the School of English at St Andrews, led (somewhat ironically) by the Old and Middle English scholars, were Internet enthusiasts. "They tend to stay rather late" he remarked, with a note of distaste. As for the students; they keep asking him to arrange for the School's expensive poetry database on CD-ROM to be networked to their residences.
Douglas Dunn was himself a librarian for many years, working in Scotland, the US and, famously, at the University of Hull under Philip Larkin. His love of libraries and his love of books are locked together. "I'm a rather book-bound person. As a piece of technology, this is excellent", he says, leafing through the nearest example. Dunn is fully in favour of networking digitised texts, however, citing the problems of impoverished students who turn up to his tutorials without the set books. For him, the great value of the Net lies in the potential it offers to researchers to perform serious bibliographical searching. Junk is a problem, of course. As is the temptation to plagiarism. "But these are not arguments for saying 'IT go home'". And he is remarkably tolerant of those who use the Net to publish their own poetry. "Vanity publishing has a long and honourable tradition. Isn't that how Byron and Shelley were first published?"
So the Net has its uses. But somehow I doubt whether it will ever inspire Douglas Dunn to eulogy in the way the libraries of his former career have done (in 'Libraries: A Celebration', 1993):
Associates, Fellows and Office Bearers of the Library Association,
Hear this! the wheels of my retrieval system running
On lubricants of print and permanent devotion!