What will we lose when books die?

I’ve been struggling with what might be the long-term implications of focusing too much on digital books, and less and less on the those made from dead trees. We know, how for practical reasons, libraries have been looking away from book stacks and into what e-books could offer.

I also noted recently my disappointment at one aspect of the ‘death of print’ –  the news that Britannica is ceasing to go into print. Some of my friends thought it was a good thing. One said it was cumbersome to have to dig into journals for knowledge he needed fast.  I was interested not in what it meant for us in the now, as to what it meant for present younger (and future) generations, who automatically think that search engines index and reveal everything there is to know on a particular subject.

So I was glad to stumble on Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s point of view. He is the associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, and author of “Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination.”

Walking the stacks, following a footnote or checking out what’s on the shelf above P96.T42K567 2007 is a bit like getting a glimpse at the ducts and plumbing behind the drywall. Or the Web site’s source code.

He goes on to say that books teach us to ask the key questions “Who wrote that? Where are the competing voices? How is it organized? By what (and whose) terms is it indexed? Does it have pictures? Can I write in it myself?”

Libraries are wonderful content gardens that rejuvenate the mind. I have a few that I love, and one that really irks me, but I still go back! I always wondered why they draw me and my children.After all, aren’t they gravitating to all things digital?

Kirschenbaum’s explanation is so apt: “Even the grossest physical failings of books and libraries, the maddening frustration of the book that is lost or checked out just when you need it most can instill an important lesson: knowledge is proximate.

Indeed!  It’s hard to accept that not everything is a click away!

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