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library.

9 November 2009
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tonight i was very disturbed.  you see, i was innocently minding my own business, driving home from a doctor’s appointment, when this story came on the radio.  all about a library that GOT RID OF ITS BOOKS.  excuse me!?  how can a library be a library without any books?  it makes no sense!

okay.  granted the library subscribed to a database with millions of digital books.  and it acquired some kindles students can check out.  but i’m very sorry to say digital books and digital book readers do not a library make.

now, don’t get me wrong.  i recognize the value of digital resources.  i use them all the time in my own research.  i love searchable text databases.  i love having online access to full text articles.  but i also print up the articles or chapters that i find pertinent to my research.  why? because there’s an enormous difference between reading material on a screen and reading it in print format.

it’s true that most digital readers allow for annotation in some way or another, but from what i’ve heard it’s cumbersome at best.  i’ve also been told that accessing footnotes on digital readers is difficult.  both of those tools–annotating a text and accessing that text’s notes–are invaluable to academic reading and research.  and then there’s the small detail of memory.  i frequently find things in a text because i remember that it was at the top of the left side of a page (or somesuch).  maybe i’m weird, but there’s just something more memorable about  a physical text than a nondescript screen of text.

and all of that doesn’t even touch the physical beauty of a book and of stacks of books.  there’s something magical about a library that cannot be duplicated.  books have lives, beyond the life they contain in their text.  they represent the interests and tastes and loves of the people who owned them, the priorities and emphases of the institutions that acquired them.  when someone dies and leaves behind a library, some part of her continues to live.  when someone gives a book, he also give some little bit of himself.  how could we possibly imagine that a world without books, even one in which all of the same information was immediately searchable and accessible through digital means, would be a world in which we would want to live?

i love digital tools.  i use them all the time.  but i hope i never get to the point that i choose digital texts over my lovely, beautiful, wonderful books.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 November 2009 7:40 am

    I love books, I love the feel, the heft, everything about them except for one thing…I'm allergic to dust. So much so, that I can't have books in my bedroom, and when I buy a used book I have to be very careful about it's condition or it'll trigger the asthma. I haven't bought an electronic reader, I'm strongly opposed to them morally, but I may eventually for the reasons above.

  2. 10 November 2009 8:14 am

    I love books. I agree with you – there's a little bit of magic in the pages of a book. However, I have a Kindle on my ITouch and I confess to having read several books on it. When I was sick and had run out of books, it was so easy to order a book on Amazon and receive it within a minute! It's very convenient. BUT it's just not the same. It doesn't feel as good to touch the screen instead of turning a page. It's weird, but there is really something missing…I have given in to technology just a little, but I'll never get rid of my books!

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