Sunday, November 13, 2011

Print books

I've been thinking about the physicality of "books" lately. Books have weight, mass, volume... whatever. James Wood writes about his father-in-law's library/ "The acquisition of a book signalled not just the potential acquisition of knowledge but also something like the property rights to a piece of ground: the knowledge became a visitable place." (My father-in-law's library. New Yorker. November 7, 2011. p. 41) Electronic books? Not so much! (I know that some have calculated how much the electrons in a digital book weigh, but come'on! That's not on the same physical plane as most of us.) At least some libraries are busy on re-organizing spaces that incorporate no physical books. They are losing out on the idea of print books as emblems of their contents, posters for their contents, eye-catching advertisements for their contents - and even acoustical aids. When others are happily considering books as an element in interior design, libraries seem bent on cutting down on the number of physical books they own. (I'll have to take some photos inside the USF Tampa Library where the only visible books on the main floor is a very small browsing collection next to the requisite Starbucks.) Now... I have to say that I'm pretty much over the idea of owning physical books. I used to own tons of books. Then somewhere along the line decided that I was never going to have a larger house and that most of the books I owned were not endangered species. I cut down on the number of physical books I own relying on library access and electronic access - free when I can figure out a place to get items for "free" and paying for e-books when other routes are not available. I was faced with a gift of some physical books recently and had to say that I was alarmed at their weight and volume. I was at someone's house not too long ago - and again, the size of books was alarming. BUT... I have a lot of empathy for those who still appreciate the physical book. Ben Mezrich said "I hate the idea of the Kindle, but I love my Kindle." So...there seems to be this acceptance/rejection of print books - something that has weight, odor...handling a print book invokes our senses. (The Tampa Library at University of South Florida is moldy. Many of the books smell slightly of mold.) A book e-reader has its tactile charms, but handling my Kindle doesn't seem quite as rich as hanlding print books. Lately therehave some visions of the future that imagine everything under glass, made of glass, glass-like... our future interface for knowledge, communication of many kinds, etc. Does this mean that everything we handle will feel the same? Will everything we touch have the same temperature? Will everything we touch feel slick? Nothing warm and fuzzy? Hmmm...that idea makes me feel a little more sentimental about "books." Some of the things that got me thinking about print books: Carr. Nicolas. People in glass futures should throw stones. (November 10, 2011) Mezrich, Ben. In depth: Ben Mezrich. Paulus, Michael. Defending my library. Curator. (October 21, 2011). Victor, Bret. A brief rant on the future of interaction design. (November 8, 2011). Wood, James. My father-in-law's library. James Wood. New Yorker. (November 7, 2011), p. 41

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