Saturday, November 09, 2013

Books, books, books!

Being a librarian is so dangerous. Perhaps someday my body will be excavated from the huge pile of books that I had to bring home and read. If I didn’t work in a public library, I could simply look the other way. But there, they not only cross my path, they cross my desk.

How can I turn down any of these lovely inanimate objects? I want to call them “beings,” because books have so much life in them. Books can be beautiful; they have different scents at different times in their life cycles. They have life cycles. They are created, grow old, moulder, and pass into dust. They can be profound, or inane, or both. They may be loved or hated. They may stay in one place or be moved about or change hands many times.

They may also be cast off. People are always looking for homes for the books they no longer wish to keep. When my library was accepting donations for a book sale, they seemed to never stop coming. Regardless of the guidelines we published so we’d receive only salable books--no textbooks, encyclopedias, damaged, or moldy volumes--people brought these anyway and if challenged would often insist the books were still good and someone else would want them.

Ebooks are threatening the existence of the printed book, but it is hard to imagine the digital will extinguish the light of the physical. Radio is still with us, even though television was supposed to kill it. Vinyl records have had a resurgence in the era of mp3 files.
Electronic rendering of stories is just the newest way to share them, joining oral tradition, manuscript writing, and printed-on-paper versions. The book may have seen the end of its dominance as a format (perhaps rightly so, given its the use of energy to produce), but I believe it will not only remain with us as an alternative but they will find its most useful niches as well. Business books? They come and go so quickly they may as well remain virtual. Formulaic romance or mystery? Stuffing a bunch onto an ereader is just fine.

Some works are made to be lingered over and savored, however, and those will naturally have a market in print. So, too, there may be places where a paperback would do the trick (no batteries or charging cord required!). Not to mention the emerging research that has found that readers retain more with physical volumes than ebooks. And when it comes to used books, there is still a huge market. Our Friends’ booksale recently set a record for the amount money it brought in.

I therefore suggest the rumors of the death of the book are a bit exaggerated.

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