Upon hearing that I work in a library, many individuals ask whether I’m scared that e-books and e-readers might hasten the end of the public library system. While I’m tempted to launch into a lecture about libraries as community spaces and my “it’s so much more than books!” speech, I usually refrain. Admittedly, nothing kills a party faster than the word “database”. But perhaps next time, I’ll direct those inquiring minds to this blog post.
Here are some of my own reasons for adopting a no-fear attitude towards e-readers:
1) Personalization. You can’t ask the author to autograph your e-book.
2) Tactility! I want paper in my hands! I want to fold corners and crack spines (OK, as a bibliophile, I never do this, but I’ve got the option). Paper cuts? Bring ‘em on! I want my book to remind me that I’m alive!
3) Privacy. If I want to read the smutty parts over and over (and over!) again, I can. With digital downloads, Big Brother knows what you’re reading, and how often. Scary!
4) Old School is cool. Period. Just say no(!) to the planned obsolescence of new technologies.
5) Design. I love the way that books look. Stacked horizontally or vertically, organized by colour or size; they simply look great.
6) Remnants. I love the memories that start to cascade when a bus pass or train ticket falls out of a paperback. All of a sudden I’m back in Europe, on the overnight train from Florence to Paris. A photo or phone number stashed inside a book jacket give books lives and histories of their own.
7) Hugs. Can you imagine snuggling up for bed time and reading to your child, from a glowing screen? Somewhere, the sandman is recoiling! I want a child in my lap, and a book in front of us. I want my child to turn pages, point to words, and nod off gently in my arms.
8) Gifts. I have an old copy of The Beatles' Illustrated Songbook. It’s precious to me not because of its content, but because of who gave it to me, and when. It’s the object itself that I cherish.
Now, am I totally against e-readers? Of course not. They make reading easy and efficient, and they’re fabulous for travelers.
But, reading isn’t only about obtaining data. We read for pleasure, and because in addition to our edification - which is its natural result, the act of reading makes us feel good. When we open a book and read, we take our place in history, alongside all those who have read before us - and we honour them by using the same methods and the same technology.
I’m reminded of Marshal McLuhan’s famous phrase, “The medium is the message”. If that’s the case, give me a medium that’s accessible, personal, private, and classic.
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