Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Bookless Library

You know by now, Dear Readers, that I love to read. I wish I were taller, because I'm up to my you-know-what in books. This is not, of course, a bad thing unless you have to pack them all to move, which I did frequently while I was in the Air Force.

But the technology of reading marches on. Just as cuneiform on clay tablets gave way to papyrus scrolls, which gave way to bound vellum, which eventually ended up as the hardcover and softcover books we know today, all those weighty books are themselves giving way to digital formats that can be "read" on an electronic device. Agnes has her Sony Reader, Andrea has her Nook (in addition to her newer website devoted to reading and book reviews, check it out here), and I've even considered buying such a device to help save weight on our upcoming trip to Germany. I recently stuck my toe into the digital water by taking my daughter's advice and downloading the Kindle app onto my iPhone ... but more about that later.

The electronic book formats are slowly taking over. I didn't realize just how quickly this was happening until I read this Time Magazine article yesterday: Is a Bookless Library Still a Library? The article describes the new Library Learning Terrace at Drexel University, which is a library without a single book ... just rows of computer terminals on which readers can access digital volumes stored in the e-version of what we used to call "the stacks."

But is it reading?

Of course, you say ... you're still "reading" the same information, just presented in a different way. Instead of unrolling a scroll, or pondering icons pressed into clay tablets or leafing through your mass market paperback, you're simply "paging" through the digital equivalent by swiping your finger across a screen or pushing an icon that advances the image of the page.

But is it really reading?

I admit it. I'm a traditionalist. I like the feel, the weight, the smell of a real book. Sitting in front of a fire on a snowy evening with a cup of hot chocolate and a flat-screen electronic reader just doesn't seem the same to me. Yes, I see the advantages ... toting a small, lightweight electronic device rather than a pile of heavy books on a trip is certainly easier on your back and saves packing space. But on a day-to-day basis, give me a real book any day.

I even love books about books. One of life's great pleasures is a read through Alberto Manguel's wonderful book The Library at Night, and Robert Danton had this to say in his recent book titled The Case for Books:

"Consider the book. It has extraordinary staying power. Ever since the invention of the codex sometime close to the birth of Christ, it has proven to be a marvelous machine - great for packaging information, convenient to thumb through, comfortable to curl up with, superb for storage, and remarkably resistant to damage. It does not need to be upgraded or downloaded, accessed or booted, plugged into circuits or extracted from webs. Its design makes it a delight to the eye. Its shape makes it a pleasure to hold in the hand. And its handiness has made it the basic tool of learning for thousands of years, even when it had to be unrolled to be read (in the form of the volumen or scroll rather than the codex, composed of leaves connected to a binding) long before Alexander the Great founded the library of Alexandria in 332 BC."

Yes, there's no substitute - most of the time - for the good old book.

But getting back to my daughter's recommendation to download the Kindle app for my iPhone...

Perhaps I might like it if the screen were larger. Or if I didn't have to worry about running out of power in the middle of a good part of the story. Or if I weren't just a grouchy partial luddite.

There's probably a Kindle or some such device in my future. But that doesn't mean I have to welcome it with open arms ... more with a sigh of resignation.

There's just nothing like a book.

Have a good day. Read something. More thoughts tomorrow.



Anonymous said...

I think the electronic readers are great for novels, especially at the beach or when traveling. I don't think they will replace textbooks or larger "art" books. Looking at my own textbooks home now from college, and reference books here at my summer internship office, and all the post-it notes and place keeping papers sticking out of them, it's difficult to imagine an electronic device having that "flip-back-and-forth" ability. For large illustrations I think looking at "the whole picture" in a printed book beats looking at postcard sized miniviews and having to grasp and drag to see different portions.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I really like my Nook..basically because...well..I'm running out of room! I still buy regular books though...

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...


I will be the last person in the world who buys some technology to read a book. NEVER. unless they stop printing books all together.

And why is the gym rat is the one who tells me they don't want to carry the books because they are heavy. You lift weights and a couple of books is a problem? Oh Please.

Davis said...

Hi Bill. Yeah the iPhone format is too small. I recently loaded some of my flight manuals, basically textbooks, on my iPad. Terrific! Crisp. I can use a highlighter. The search feature is much easier than "thumbing" through a book.
I still buy used books but I am not proud of the trees used and the transportation costs of delivery. I give them away after reading most of the time.

Mike said...

I had to look up codex. Wikipedia said 'a codex is random access'. Witch is very true. You can't flip through a nook to see if something catches your eye.

KathyA said...

No -- there is nothing like the feel of a book in one's hand. It brings me such joy! That being said, I'm planning on getting a Nook Color. I read so quickly that when we travel, I often take 3 and 4 books with me. I'm not saying that I'll use the Nook all the time, but I'd love the convenience of having so many books at my fingertips.