Photo originally uploaded by PPL2a
Are books passé (behind the times) or will they be around forever?
This is an interesting question for me as a librarian who is now working almost exclusively with digital materials rather than the traditional hardcover books. My day is spent looking at a computer screen, tapping away at a keyboard, and exercising my mouse while searching online catalog records and verifying that Internet links are correct.
Currently I am the only employee of the library who is cataloging digital materials. There are four catalogers handling print and audiovisual materials. Last summer I was transferred summer from the Cataloging Department to Library Technology which has just been renamed Digital Library Services. I am happy about this change because frankly I still have lots of years to go until retirement and if there's even the slightest chance that books are going to kick the bucket, I still want to be employable.
That being said, however, my personal reading experiences remain old school. Okay, I admit I have read a few books online through NetLibrary but I haven't read them beginning to end or "cover to cover" as we used to say. It's been more of a browse really. Nor do I own any of the portable devices that are available and am not too knowledgeable of them (new job department title notwithstanding). I'd characterize myself as an avid book reader with generally several titles on my nightstand. In order to feed my need to read, I'm a regular patron of my local public library where the books are free rather than a customer at the bookstore. I don't know if it's the influence of my choice of career or not but I own relatively few books.
To solicit input from others I took an informal poll on the topic at work. I asked people whether they thought books in a physical format were as of now passé or here to stay. The five coworkers I got to take me seriously all voted for here to stay. Some qualified their remarks a bit saying things like "in a hundred years or so it might be different" and "the digital ebook readers will have to get a lot better" but everyone was confident that books will be around for quite awhile yet.
Here's a look at the other point of view:
Voices for Passé
"With most media being converted to digital formats in order to be made more portable, such as music and movies, it’s only a matter of time before books make a similar leap. Sure, there’s a certain comfort brought by carrying around a real book, but just like the warm-sounding vinyl records before them, they’re bound to become a relic owned only by serious fans. What’ll replace them? Digital books."
Quoted from post "Sony Reader Hints Towards the Death of Books" on blog.jr.com (January 2008)
Photo by Kevin P. Casey for The New York Times
Edward Wyatt of the New York Times reported that the Kindle (pictured above) was the talk of the BookExpo America trade show in June 2008.
Electronic Device Stirs Unease at Book Fair
"Booksellers, who make up the other major group attending the
publishing convention, are also concerned that electronic books could become more than a passing fancy for an electronically savvy subset of customers. “It certainly does feel like a threat,” said Charles Stillwagon, the events manager at the Tattered Cover Book Store, a large independent bookseller in Denver.
Nearly all publishers say their sales of electronic books are growing
exponentially. Carolyn K. Reidy, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said its sales of electronic books will more than double this year compared to last year, after growing 40 percent in 2007 from 2006. David Shanks, the chief executive of Penguin Group USA, said his company sold more electronic books in the first four months of 2008 than in all of last year."
Read full article here.
But on the other hand....
Voices for Here to Stay
"It is an immutable law that the Death of the Book must be debated at least once a year.....The book is an artefact of the heart. Because the mind responds more viscerally and profoundly to words on paper, it gets an emotional charge, a deep connection with the characters, a yearning desire to know the ending that is not found on a screen. Books hold our personal histories; our bookshelves are the record of our lives. Our childish loves, our adolescent passions, our sudden crazy obsessions, are all up there in our room, to remind us. The physical act of opening a pristine novel, getting the scent of it in our nostrils, and yes, holding it close to our heart, are sensory and uniquely human experiences. We carry books to show who we are, to impress new crushes, to protect us when dining alone; we take down an old favourite down when we are shattered from heartbreak, or demoralised by illness, or overwhelmed by life."
Quoted from The Guardian 4/17/07 "The Death of the Book, Again". Read full article here.
I'll finish up with a quote from a librarian I read in a book just this week.
"And when you walk into the library, you still notice the books: shelf after shelf and row after row of books. The covers may be more colorful, the art more expressive, and the type more contemporary, but in general the books look the same as they did in 1982, and 1962, and 1942. And that's not going to change.
Books have survived television, radio, talking pictures, circulars (early magazines),dailies (early newspapers), Punch and Judy shows, and Shaekespeare's plays. They have survived World War II, the Hundred Years' War, the Black Death, and the fall of the Roman Empire. They even survived the Dark Ages, when almost no one could read and each book had to be copied by hand. They aren't going to be killed off by the Internet."
As written by Vicki Myron a library director from Iowa in her best
selling book Dewey The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World.
What do you think? Passé or here to stay?
*Update* Read Liz's experience with purchasing an ebook here.
*Update 12/09* Megan from Hearing Sparks has written a post on four initiatives to make ebooks more accessible to the visually impaired.