I look forward to authors exploring the ebook format as something more than just a different package for print books. Ebooks are a format, distinct from print, and can do things that print can’t, tell stories in ways that print could never accomplish.
It’s more than the obvious idea of integrating multimedia elements (but how cool would Rigg’s “Peculiar Children” books be if the images were subtle animated GIFs?). Ebooks aren’t ink on paper, which means the text doesn’t have to be permanent. The words themselves could be made changeable.
In his book, Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library, Dr. Wayne Wiegand groups library services into three major categories:
These categories clarify a nagging issue I have with the language we use to talk about the importance of internet access in libraries. The following quote from a recent article by Larra Clark is a good example:
I spoke to a gentleman recently about the efforts of public libraries to bridge the Digital Divide, both in terms of offering broadband internet access to those who otherwise don’t have it, and teaching digital and information literacy to those who need it.
This gentleman told me that he thinks the internet is useless. He’s been online, tried the social media thing, wandered around the web, and he sees no value in any of it. He concluded that it’s all just a flood of unreliable, unverified information, and people being mean and wasting time. He believes that we’d all be better off without it.
He told me that he can’t understand why we work so hard to provide access to something that people don’t need and shouldn’t be using in the first place. I don’t believe this man was intentionally exclusionary or prejudiced—he sincerely couldn’t understand why anyone would value something which, to him, is so obviously value-less.
Rather than argue with this gentleman’s opinions regarding the supposed value of the internet, I responded:
Information professionals like to crow that we’re living in a Golden Age of Information. More information is available to more people than ever before in history, and it’s easier to access than ever.
The standard response is to point out that there’s more bad information than ever before. A whole lot of the information currently circulating around out there isn’t reliable.
This is true. But it’s also true that there’s more good information available to us than ever before, too. Just as bad information has increased, good information has increased alongside. I believe this firmly and I’ll stand by this statement.
But I’m not sure if the increase in good information is keeping pace with the increase in bad. It may be the proportion of good-to-bad has become more unbalanced. It may be that good information is being increasingly overwhelmed by the bad.
Perhaps it’s ironic, but the more time I spend as a digital librarian, learning and exploring new technology, finding new and better ways to provide technology to our patrons, the more I find myself passionately advocating for the importance of print and the necessity of its continued presence in our reading culture.
For a variety of reasons, for the past few days I’ve been thinking even more than I usually do about the differences between print books and digital books, and how our brain processes them. There are differences in how we read in different media, and it’s important for us to understand them. If our brain interacts with different formats differently, it means that different formats will best serve different purposes.
It’s our job as librarians to fulfill our patrons’ information needs as best we can. Selecting the best format for the information is increasingly important.
This is my latest attempt to summarize my understanding of how and why print and digital differ.
Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow is, as one would expect, an incisive and lively exploration of the issues surrounding copyright and enforcement in the Internet Age.
Dr. Doctorow is established as an outspoken critic of the various methods that media corporations use to try and enforce their interpretation of copyright laws on the Internet: digital locks, DRM efforts, automated “Notice and Takedown” practices, etc. He takes on each of these methods and explains clearly what they’re intended to accomplish, why they fail, and the damage they do to creative workers and Internet users in general.