A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Number one thing that people want to talk about when they know that I am a librarian is whether or not I believe that books are going to go the way of the dinosaurs.

Actually, the first thing people want to know when I am a librarian is whether or not I had to go to school to learn how to...shuffle books and like have a mean face at the reference desk.

The answer to both is a snarky yes! Books will go the way of the dinosaurs, and the content knowledge that they cram in your head in library school definitely makes your face take on that demeanor.

But, I run across really interesting articles and blogs in my daily navigations, and I ran across one today. Actually, the post from this blog was posted to the Queens College listserv and since I haven't desubscribed I still get posts. Anyways, this is from a popular blog called "Everything is Miscellaneous" and the post is by davidw.

I really liked this post because it puts things in perspective and gives readers a criteria for scoring whether or not they think the new crop of readers will outplace pbooks (physical books). I would like to talk a little about the criteria and point out the ones that make the most sense from my point of view as an academic librarian.

More importantly, I would like to state, even before we start, that in my world, pbooks will never go out of existence because books are the extent of my material wealth. In other words, all I own is books so if they are becoming defunct, what the hell am I going to do with all the books I have amassed. Let me be clear, I can't afford for my books to become defunct, however, I would be crazy if I didn't also admit that I have a deep personal connection with my books.

In terms of davidw's criteria, there are myriad: Readilbilty, Convenience, Annotability, Affordability, Social Flags, Aesthetic Object, Sentimental Object, Historic Object, Historical Objects, Specialized Objects, Possessions, Single Mindedness, and Religious Objects. Now, I should clarify, these aren't really criteria but things to consider. This list is one of the more comprehensive ones that I have run into on the net, so I thought I might point out some of the more thoughtful criteria/considerations.

One of the main reasons why my books are such a part of my life is because I always write in the margins. Many of my librarian friends look at me weird when I tell them that I write in my books, as if books were made for literate robots. I believe engaging with the book you're reading by making notes in the margins is an essential requirement of literacy. You can't really be reading the book you are reading if you are just reading the words on the page. In my book, to read, you have to engage with your pen and read with your pen. If not, you ain't really reading.

And so, this is the first of the considerations I thought davidw does a comprehensive job of pointing out. For example, "the current crop of ebooks make highlighting passages and making notes so difficult that you have to take a break from reading to do either of those things. But, that’s one big reason why the current crop of ebooks are pathetic. With a touchscreen and a usable keyboard (or handwriting recognition software), ebooks of the future should be as easy to annotate as a pbook is. And those annotations will then become more useful, since they will be searchable and sharable."

Imagine if there were a program that automatically compiled all the notes that you took while you read. Well, if you are using an e-reader than it stands to reason that those functions should be readily available. Especially since, the e-reader is primarily going to be targeted at students and leisure readers. The program that allows you to do this may already exist but since I don't have an e-reader then I am completely ignorant.

Books are also historical objects and should be treated as such. For example, "As John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid have pointed out, as has Anthony Grafton, books as physical objects collect metadata that can be useful to historians, e.g., the smell of vinegar that indicates the book came from a town visited by cholera. Ebooks, however, accumulate and generate far more metadata. So, we will lose some types of metadata but gain much more…maybe more than our current norms of privacy are comfortable with." I forget the name of the researcher but there is someone who is experimenting with the idea of having smells and other ambient iterations appear in books, like smell and taste so that people who love their pbooks will still get their fix, etc.

The next consideration or criteria is for me the one that I hadn't even thought of and am kind of embarrassed to admit. When you buy an e-book you are buying a license to use the e-book, you are not buying the book per se. In other words, "We are headed towards a model that grants us licenses to read books, but not outright ownership. (This is Cory’s main topic in the interview.) If we lose ownership of ebooks, then they won’t have the sentimental value, they will lose some of their economic value to readers (because we won’t be able to resell them or buy them cheaper used), and we won’t be as invested in them culturally. Whether ebooks will be ownable, and whether that will be the default of the exception, is unresolved."

Now, this gets sticky if you take into consideration the fact that we interact with the books that we own, not with the licenses that dictate how much of them that we own. Taken like this, the problem comes into stark relief. Will we be able to invest culturally in books in which we have no stake. Conversely, it's not like I enjoy a novel any less because I can't make a statement after I am doing reading it. And, it's not like I own the rights to that novel as I read it. It would be illegal for me to copy that book, change it according to my design, and resell it. So, what is all the fuss about?

1 comment:

Jim said...

yo son what about the fact, I want to look like a big man with a big book case full of Melville, McCarthy and the like... I feel you on the license vs. owning an artifact, like you hold a piece of the genius vs. a viewing of it