There has been some discussion lately about tectonic movement in the ebook world – the New York Times recently reported that Google and Amazon are getting into the act of making it easier to read and own books electronically. Easier – maybe, but less expensive? Recent reading devices range from $300-400, not including the price of downloads. The Sony PRS-500:
Most people (myself included) have visceral and conflicting reactions to the word “ebook”. As a librarian, researcher, and educator I love the ability to access linked books through library catalogs and Google Book, and the preview function of Amazon.com is often a useful tool for me as a bibliographer. Explaining to disbelieving graduate students that they can access the scanned historical print collections of the best library systems in the world is something I relish, much like explaining to first-year undergrads in information literacy classes that “no, you can’t see that entire book on Google because of x, y, and z, but how about clicking this link that takes us to the Ohio University catalog to search for a local copy?” and watching the equivalent of a light going on in their heads. As much as librarians balk at the idea of our traditional, physical reading culture disappearing, ebooks have already become tricks of our trade.
That said, many thanks to Sarah over at Librarian in Black for pointing out 10 Reasons Why eBooks Suck by Rob Neville. Despite my daily reliance on eletronic books, I get a fiendish sense of delight when techies and/or nonlibrarians bash them. Like the vast majority, I think that the book (much like the cowboy boot) has been refined over millennia into a perfect object of human consumption – convenient, handy, durable, and unbelievably attractive. Furthermore, printed books are objects that have arguably shaped the way humans have processed information for countless generations.
On the flip side, recent generations are starting to process information in a radically different way due to the new tools and technologies we increasingly use for media consumption, communication, and productivity. One comment on Neville’s post leads to a discussion forum on why print books suck, including such reasons as papercuts, paper burns, that “books make you look like an old person”, that paper kills the environment, etcetera. It is interesting to note that devotees of electronic reading seem to cite many of the same preferences as traditional readers to make their case- reliability, ease of use, portability, flexibility.
I truly believe that until someone figures out a convenient, Star-Wars futuristic way to project a book hologramatically that most people will prefer to do their personal reading paper in hand. Ebooks shouldn’t be vilified completely precisely because they provide another avenue through which people can experience literacy and literature. The most important thing about the publicity of print v. electronic book debate is that, no matter their preferred medium, people continue to debate their reading preferences in the first place. This serves to ensure that individuals are better informed about the ever-increasing range of information discovery methods available, and furthermore that they may consider reading’s value to them on a personal level.