Archive for the ‘ebooks’ Category

Detroit Public Schools Book Depository, 2025 14th Street

Photo by tunnelbug on Flickr
I’d like to take a moment to riff off of a tidy little post by Joe over at all these birds with teeth (BTW, one of my top two or three favorite library blogs). Joe’s recent post, “Drinking the Kool-Aid“, takes a look at the claim that we are heading towards a post-text world where video will become the dominant method of communication. As some have argued, video will soon eclipse text as the primary means of communication recording and sharing information. And libraries, following the trend away from knowledge collection and towards knowledge production, should follow suit and direct training, resources, facilities, even our very mission as librarians towards the new paradigm. But, as Joe argues,

The matter of the fact is that text is not dead (“Text” is a part of the world of visual communication) and if we intend to be taken seriously as sites of production then it behooves us to keep the lines to the past open for those in the future.

And he’s absolutely right. There is no prima facie reason to abandon a technology simply because something new and different has come along. Sure, it sometimes goes that way: we replaced the typewriter with the computer in less than two decades. Then again, for all the gee-whiz technology we’re buying, I’ve got five bucks that says you’ve got a pen or pencil within your reach.

That’s vintage Canadian money. I’m all about the Lauriers, baby.

Where am I going with this?

There’s an unfortunate tendency in some library circles to view new technologies or new theories as the one and only future of librarianship. It’s said that ebooks will replace print books, smartphones will replace desktops, the cloud will replace local storage, and so on. And that’s just the tech side of things. Library practice sees the same push towards replacement. Patron driven acquisitions will replace collection development. Transliteracy will replace information literacy. Knowledge construction will replace knowledge collection. Tagging will replace classification systems. You get the idea. And, you know, some of that may in fact happen. But, a lot of it won’t. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping around. New Coke was grody to the max. The New Age movement is patent nonsense. New Jack Swing? Color Me Sadd.

Wow. That’s just one “Ooh, baby, ooh” from the worst pun ever. Sorry.

by stgermh on Flickr

My point is just that some of our current practices are in need of replacement, but others will outlive each and every one of us. Sure, saying that text is dead is just hyperbolic rhetoric, not meant to be taken seriously. But, the threat of thinking in terms of obsolescence is very real. For all we know, ebooks may go the way of the microfiche; for all we know, social tagging may go the way of the card catalog. Maybe so, maybe not. But we should at least avoid the rhetoric; we shouldn’t turn our backs on the past because something better might come along.

Don’t get me wrong. The pitfalls of techno-theoretical boosterism don’t entail that we shouldn’t be advocates for new technologies and theories. If we don’t actively pursue, explore, and recommend new technology or new theory, we won’t be going anywhere as a profession. We need to embrace new technologies and see how far we can push them, even if they do turn out to be worthless in the long run. The important thing is that we don’t pretend that existing technologies no longer matter when something new comes along. We shouldn’t think in terms of replacement, we should think in terms of addition or enhancement. That is, we shouldn’t look at our print books begrudgingly because we think they’ll soon be replaced. We shouldn’t resent what we have because we want what’s yet to come.

If ebooks replace print books, so be it, but we shouldn’t give print books the cold shoulder just because Kindles just got cheaper. And we shouldn’t throw around hyperbolic “X is dead” statements until X is truly long gone. Spending time on future technology and trends is absolutely vital to our profession. But so is spending time on past technologies and trends, and we need to remember that the utility of the technologies and theories of the present can only be determined in relation to the past. I’m not saying we need to start teaching all about microfilm in library instruction or that the scriptorium is integral to the modern library. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that advancement necessarily means replacement. As Joe says: “it behooves us to keep the lines to the past open for those in the future.” Again, we shouldn’t resent what we’ve got because something better might come along. Let text and print die a natural death, don’t let them die from neglect.

Yes, I know that these books weren’t replaced by ebooks.
They were replaced by nothing at all.

by shanegorski no Flickr

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So, I wrote this post over at Libraries and Transliteracy. In a nutshell, I argued that transliteracy can be viewed as a methodology that exists somewhere between the conservativism of the pro-book crowd and the naive optimism of the all-digital-all-the-time crowd. These two groups treat old-style literacy as completely at odds with the future of learning. My take is that both past and future are pretty cool and transliteracy can be a bridge between them.

I stand by my ideas, but I think I’ll back off from the writing style. Why? Well, as David Rothman points out, the post was a mess of jargon and inaccessible technical writing. From terms like ‘incommensurable’, ‘pedagogical’, and ‘hegemony’ to unwieldy sentence structures, the writing was an unfortunate throwback to grad school.

You see, I had a really great e-mail conversation/argument with an old library school chum just prior to writing for L&T. He’s a really astute guy, and the back-and-forth got so specific and technical that technical writing was legitimately called for. Couple that with having just read through the archives at HASTAC.organd you just sort of start writing and even thinking in highly-technical terms.

But, blogs are not always the same as philosophy exams or personal communications. Many blogs are directed at a general audience from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and it’s a mistake to think that what is transparent for me will necessarily be transparent for every reader. So, from now on I’ll keep the technical stuff here on my personal blog and I’ll try not to muddy the waters in more wide-reaching and important forums.

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The Things I Carried

I’m just back from a First Year Reading Experience Committee meeting. Briefly, the university is looking into a common reading program for incoming freshmen…Google “common reading program” for background. Today the committee took a list of 63 suggested titles and narrowed it down to five. Committee members will be reading these books over the holiday break. Hence the terrible pun in the title of this post…

You see, I’ll be spending the holidays back in Michigan, meaning I’ll be living out of a suitcase. I have five books to read for this committee: The Things They Carried, Bright-sided, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, In Defense of Food, and The World without Us. On top of the committee work, I am in the middle of two books of fiction (City of Thieves and Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned), one book review for Choice (Virtue and Vice, Moral and Epistemic), and two books on librarianship (Questioning Library Neutrality and Humanism and Libraries). That’s a grand total of ten (10!) books to pack and take up north. All that space in my suitcase! The added weight! The lack of convenience! But, Khristy has her own books…two or three books on Descartes, Inferno, Primal Myths, The Norton Book of Classical Literature, and at least two or three more. Man, I must really want an Kindle right about right now….

Except, I don’t. Even in the case where e-readers are supposed to shine, I’m still not impressed. I want physical books that take up space and make my luggage heavier. I want to be reminded of the physicality of those books every time I rearrange the luggage to get Liam another toy. I want a stack of books on my nightstand and the promise that when I go home I can put those books on the shelf next to the hundreds of other books that make me dread moving to another house. You see, I like to have physical books around as souvenirs, as mementos, as proof…the simple haeccity of the books on the shelf is of unimaginable value.

It’s not that I have anything against ebooks; they are justifiably useful, convenient, capable, and popular. But, ebooks are pure content, they lack the ‘thingness’ inherent in printed books. Physical books combine content with an extension in space that reaffirms their importance. Whether standing in rows on shelves or stacked on tables, paper books are there in a way that ebooks cannot be, and I like that. I like that Liam is growing up in a home with shelves of books in every room, reliquaries of our collective mental lives. I like that, as he grows up, books will be part of the architecture of his childhood, a subtle reminder of the importance of imagination, creativity, and intellect. Some people frame physical photographs and hang them on the wall; I shelve books.

So, I still don’t want an ereader. Neither cost nor convenience will sway me. I would rather curse and sweat over the inconvenience of packing 10 or 20 books because in that instant the books reassert themselves as more than mere containers: they are souvenirs of the mind.

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I just wanted to throw out a link to Jason’s repost of Eli Neiberger’s killer presentation about the future of the codex. This really is the best presentation I’ve seen in a long while and it’s must-watch content for librarians.

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