My top secret topic is not really a topic. It is a response. It is a retort, if you will, but with very little anger or snidery. From April 7th by Amy Blevins, Are [You] Ready to Embrace etextbooks?
My most recent and mocked mantra in the Library has been “Down with the eBook!” If I overhear someone–a colleague–talking about a Kindle, for instance, I interrupt with my emphatic chant. It seems a little excessive and extremist; it seems to go against the very essence of progression and technological development that the Library supports and encompasses. This is the natural order of things, no? The promulgation of electronic books is inevitable. We are, generally, a people all about the now, now, now. Instant gratification is in vogue. It is expected.
But, I worry (and some people tell me my concern is unfounded) that the book–the tangible piece of art (and it is art!), the artifact that develops a musty aroma as it ages–will end up where floppy disks, vinyl records, and even compact discs are. On display in museums, in the dank homes of obsessive collectors, in the Land of the Forgotten. They will be auctioned on eBay, sold to the highest book bidder. I’ve joked that my house will be a sanctuary for unwanted and discarded books. Only, I don’t think I am joking.
Not too long ago, I attended one of the Downtown Dialogues on the Humanities series. After the speakers presented on “Dante’s Book of Nature” and “Books in the British Romantic Period,” after questions were asked of them, and after they responded, the discussion among attendees turned into a lively debate. The topic at hand: the unclear and ill-fated future of the physical book. Granted, the debaters were English professors, and foreign language and literature scholars; they may well appreciate and view the book in a vastly disparate way in comparison to a physical therapist or a nursing instructor. The book for the humanities is not quite the same as the book for the sciences. Wouldn’t you agree? Well, I think so.
Advances in science and health-related research requires constant updating. Books published just in 1995 on the treatment of cancer or heart disease are now considered out-dated. We would not recommend a fifteen year old book to anyone. (Unless it is about theory or anatomy—things that ostensibly do not change.) A literary work published in 1959, like A Raisin in the Sun, is and may always be considered timeless and ends up on many, many reading/must watch lists. It is still a recommended read.
There is an undeniable difference. But the debate at the Dialogues brought up valid points, still. The physical book is being, literally, weeded out. Whereas it used to be a commodity for the well-off, it is now for anyone with access to a computer. The book has lost its value. Surely, people are reading and probably more than ever. But, are they checking out a hardback at their local library? No, they’re logging on to the Library’s computers and reading…Facebook, blogs, gossip.
I’d be remiss to deny that I’ve used an eBook. I certainly have and on more than one occasion. An eBook is more efficient for quote/fact checking. It is convenient when the library closes at 5, and you do not get off or out of class until 6. It is convenient if you are a DE student. But, to completely replace the physical book for the virtual one…that is tantamount to blasphemy.
My library colleagues remind me that the physical book will never go extinct, it will never completely disappear. But, it is hard to remain objective or optimistic when I am bearing witness to it disappearance. I fear I am among a minority here even though the proof is in the pudding. I cannot even get with the argument that eBooks are better for the environment. Keep in mind that it was once a widely accepted notion that the introduction of and widespread use of computers would decrease the amount of paper used and wasted, the overall amount of paperwork. But, that has not been the case. With the computer came the printer. With the printer came overflowing trash cans and recycle bins.
And in conclusion, Amy, call me old-fashioned and hokey, but I am not ready to [completely] embrace the eBook. I am, however, ready to embrace equality—the physical book and the virtual book ought to exist in harmony.