18 December 2006

Digital Books

In his paper, “The Bookless Future: What the Internet is Doing to Scholarship,” David Bell paints a scary picture of the future when he predicts that books will soon follow in the footsteps of their now nearly-deceased relative, the card catalogue.

Digitization and online access, he tells us, is already underway for

“every issue ever printed of the New York Times; tens of thousands of classic and not-so-classic works of literature; a large majority of the books published in English before 1800; a million pages' worth of French Revolutionary pamphlets and newspapers; every issue of virtually every major American newspaper and magazine going back a decade or more; every page of most major American academic journals going back half a century; most major encyclopedias and dictionaries; all the major works of Western painters and sculptors. And much more is coming.” DAB

He also points out the bookless society’s strongest asset:

“Making vast libraries of learning available at no cost to anyone with an Internet connection is surely more important than preserving the rarefied pleasures of physical research libraries for those lucky or privileged enough to have easy access to them.” DAB

Before reading Bell’s paper, I would certainly have counted myself amongst those who, like “Writers such as Nicholson Baker… are likely to greet this much larger change with despairing howls of anger.” DAB.

While not quite fully reformed, I am more convinced of the value of e-books. I will not go out and by an e-book reader any time soon, but neither will I turn my nose up at the efforts of those who seek to enable more people more access to more books. Perhaps instead of trying to gentrify myself, I will instead applaud – and thank – those who are helping me reach new intellectual heights.

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