William F. Buckley Jr., my political opposite, once denounced the growing popularity of CD-ROM’s in student research. Shouldn’t young people learn from real books?
I disagreed. Why not instead digitize a huge number of books and encourage the spread of book-friendly tablet computers with color screens and multimedia capabilities? (Decades later, we have a version of that in the iPad.) Buckley loved my proposal (“inspiring”) and came out in the 1990s with two syndicated columns backing the vision. As a harpsichord-playing Yalie famous for political and cultural conservatism and cherishing archaic words, Buckley was hardly a populist in most respects. But he fervently agreed with me that a national digital library should be universal and offer popular content–both books and multimedia. The library should serve not just the needs of academics, researchers, and lovers of high culture.