It is raining again. Rainy weather is the perfect time to talk or blog about books because when it rains, I want to do nothing more than curl up on the sofa with a good book and a cup of tea. Ever since class last week and Prof. Lankes’ keynote speech at the Polaris Users Group Annual Meeting, everyone in class has been blogging about books and ebooks.
A common theme is that of the physical book being an object of sentimental value. The feel, smell, and personal history of an individual print volume is a (large or small) portion of the worth of that particular book. I do not think that printed pages bound together to form a book will ever lose that value. Many libraries have displays of restored, recovered, or preserved books and print documents from history. The New York Public Library owns a Gutenburg Bible and anyone who says that a digitized copy of a Gutenberg Bible is equivalent to or better than the original mouldy paper version is in serious need of some education. I believe that the print book is a very important part of human history and should be preserved for the future. I do not, however, believe that the printed page is what most people will be reading two generations from now.
When the ebook was first being talked about, I was very much on the NO side of the argument. I am sentimental enough to love the feel, smell, and personal history of a printed book so I was very much against ebooks and ebook readers. Then, I moved to Japan where English language books are double the price and my local library only had children’s books in English. I love reading but I didn’t want to pay so much for books that I would probably end up leaving behind when I moved back to the USA. So, I bought a Kindle (after carefully reviewing the other ebook readers available at the time).
At first, I didn’t like it because it wasn’t a book. However, after two and a half years of reading on the Kindle, I can recognize that this non-book is merely a first generation in the evolution of the book. It happened before when mankind first scratched on clay tablets and then moved on to papyrus and scrolls. Then from scrolls to books hand copied by scholars and monks and on to the printing press. Moving now from the physical object to the digital format is just the next level in the development of mankind’s relationship with information.
You are reading this blog. This blog does not have a print copy and never will unless you decide you want to print it on paper so you can touch and smell it and pass on memories of it along with the physical object. That my blog is not in print format may and in fact does greatly limit the number of people with access to it right now if you are aware of the digital divide debate. But in the future, it may be that this format will be so outdated, you’ll need somebody in a clean room wearing gloves and carefully handling 21st century computer hardware just so you can view it (like historians do now when handling delicate paper records).
I feel like I’m pulling a Lankes and trying to make a big motivational point at the end, but really I just want to say that wether you like it or not, the print book will become obsolete and possibly within our lifetimes. In class this evening Prof. Lankes broke us up in groups to come up with pro and con arguments for five different issues and then work together to come up with a third option. Some of us are pro-ebook and some are not. As librarians, we are all pro-information so let’s come up with the third option.