Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Thing about Books

I started a new job description this week, and I'm surprised to find myself working with books. Maybe this will sound strange coming from a librarian, but I thought books were obsolete. As a recent grad from Syracuse's ischool, books never made it into my consciousness all that far. I thought everyone was spelling the end for the book, that publishing houses are expected to go out of business, etc., etc., etc.

But at work this week, there they were -- a bunch of new books for the library's collection. I mean, if you can get the information from lots of other places, who's writing these books, and why are we buying them?

If buying books is more than just a matter of habit, I wonder if it's because they are actually an intrinsically valuable medium and are at times preferable to online-based information. (I haven't heard anyone suggest this before.) I mean, they're durable (more durable than this blog, for example), you only buy them once instead of having to subscribe, and then once purchased & catalogued you can stick them on a shelf and basically forget about them until you need them. And books just sit there and wait for you, always accessible no matter if the power is out or the computer is broken or the network is down. It's true there are much faster ways to find and retrieve data, but a book is durable and easy to use. 

The more I think about it, the more annoyed I am that I've only heard books discussed dismissively, as if it's been books versus computers and computers won a long time ago. I thought I was the only one who liked books for their functionality, and that I was just being sentimental. But I wonder if I've been hoodwinked by the technology economy. 

I'm starting to realize there may be a practical use for books still, and that paper and ink can exist side by side with ones and zeros. I wonder who thinks this is blasphemy (-:

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your adjective "durable" both as a physical artifact and as a technology. The form has served us incredibly well for 500 years now, and ink on paper long before that. I consider this whole computer thing to be still an experiment, and a rather young one at that. We won't know its value until we see the whole like cycle of information. As you say, I can post to this blog today, but where will this information be 100 years from now.