It’s probably not coincidence that my library is beginning a serious study of the eBook landscape just as there’s been a burst of discussion on that topic in the circles I inhabit. Seems like everywhere I turn someone’s linking to interesting articles on eBooks and other emerging publication formats.
James Bridle just posted a fascinating piece on the topic called Walter Benjamin’s Aura: Open Bookmarks and the future eBook. For libraries, eBooks are complicated for a bunch of reasons he doesn’t get into (access, ownership, DRM, lending rights, preservation, and Interlibrary Loan, just to name the biggies), but Bridle talks about a piece of the puzzle that I hadn’t really thought about before: what a book actually means to people, and whether those things can be either replicated or meaningfully replaced in digital formats. Here’s the crux:
“I believe that the copy is no longer important, that we can all get the book, the text itself, if we need it. What is valuable and what is core and what we can lend to our friends and pass onto our children is not copies of books but originals of our own experiences, associated with those singular works of art.”
I’m still trying to figure out what I think about that. I find it a compelling and provocative statement for reasons I can’t really put into words just yet (maybe you can help me!). I also think that we all have that book that we hide behind the front row of books on our bookshelves, and that the concept of marking the souvenir would have to be flexible enough to accommodate that. And I think that “we all” probably can’t get at the book if we want it, but I think that a whole bunch of “we all” probably can. And I know that I buy and keep relatively few books but find the buying and keeping of them very compelling. And I also wonder if we’ll need two entirely separate publishing models to accommodate the person who buys books and the library that buys books. And I really love the photography he has in that post. And clearly I’m just rambling at this point.
Kind of related pieces on my radar this week include:
- Roy Tennant’s post about emerging publishing formats
- Emerging Genres of Scholarly Communication (I haven’t read this yet, but I will soon)
- Barbara Fister’s request for ideas about how eBooks will figure in the scholarly world