This is trippy. Librarything is hosting an index of annotations and marginalia in the books of famous individuals’ libraries. The linked example is of marginalia transcribed from John Adams’ library.
Sooner or later — like, maybe after I die of old age, but someday, anyway — this kind of index is going to be built right off the annotations that professional and amateur scholars, book-lovers, and others make in their electronic texts. They’ll be able to both annotate into, and upload annotations directly from, their reading interfaces. Online will be indexes with marginalia and notes and comments, and students will be able to choose those commenters based on things like their academic (or other) street cred, their rankings by past readers, and so on.
It’s kind of going to be like blogging, except the medium will be marginalia, in books, and it won’t be the kind of thing you’ll subscribe to in order to read like a blogl; rather, there’ll be indexes of marginalia available, and you will be able to choose which you like, subscribe to favorite scholars or readers, and access them for little or nothing more than the cost of “added value.” That is when print culture and medieval scriptoria will truly collide. The promise of electronic text will be fulfilled, and, if we do it wisely, such seeming intellectual ephemera — the scribblings in the margins of books that once annoyed us when on the precious paper pages of library texts — will be available in such profusion, and in such quality, as to drown the original text.
It will be nuts. The very idea of reading a book without at least three or four sets of marginalia from great thinkers or funny commentators will be, well, unthinkable. There will be marginalia about others’ marginalia — just as we see in the Middle Ages. There will be collations of the best marginalia on a given text, available for a small (or not so small) price. Ezra Pound’s marginalia will spin off vast trees of content, whole mad and twisted forests spiraling off into the distance. And it’ll all be directly available with the text itself, spontaneously, anchored on particular words, and you’ll be able to switch it off and on, or cycle through layers of marginalia, probably almost exactly how you want to.
That’s gonna be so cool. I hope it’s before I die of old age, though, damn it, then I’ll have to start reading everything again. So I hope it’s only a few years from now, instead.