Friday, April 30, 2010

The Case for Books - Robert Darnton

With inventions such as the Kindle and the iPad, there has been a great deal of discussion about the future of books - meaning whether actual bound books have become obsolete, as well as how we as a society best store, obtain, digest, and process the written word. This book is a collection of essays about the digitization of literature. Some of the essays take the position that by scanning books and making information readily accessible, that we have a net benefit. How could anyone possibly argue against more information? Other essays question how decisions are made about what information is available, whether there is a monopoly on information dissemination, and whether laws (in whatever form) might somehow insert a level of distrust - or create situations in in which the information is simply lost down the road. The essays are varied and cover a wide variety of concerns about the changing nature of information dissemination. Given how quickly technology evolves, some of the concerns have already been rendered moot - or technology has advanced to a point that the potential fears raised by the essays have not only been met, but possibly surpassed. When it comes to books and technology, my interest lies in whether books themselves as objects are becoming obsolete - whether the next generation of readers will still love the thrill of turning an actual page. But, Darnton isn't particularly concerned with this question (despite the title of this book). His focus is more on how the written word in general (with a heavy focus on newspapers) is maintained and accessed - and whether storing information in digital media will allow for accurate retrieval down the road. This seems like it would be a good read for librarians and others who concern themselves with these types of ideas on a daily basis. As for regular readers like us who just want to keep reading, it wasn't quite what I had in mind.

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