As the title of this post indicates, this installment of the Fate of the Book series consisted of a panel of those in favor of the continued production, use, and preservation of physical books. The conversation was very interesting; for those who were unable to attend Thursday; I highly recommend attending its second showing on Friday; information about it can be found on the college of liberal art’s web page.
Although the theme of preserving and transforming seemed to imply that there was a debate between the two (as I had assumed); the panelists weren’t necessarily anti e-book, but they merely favored physical books for varying reasons.
One thing that was stressed continually throughout the talk was the physical relationship between the reader and the book. Not only from the aesthetic perspective of the feel of the pages, the smell, and things of that nature; but also in relation to the way that the reader intakes information. They pointed out that when reading a physical book, it is easier to find something in previous pages due to a reader’s memory of approximately where in the text that information was and what side of the page it was on. This is even more important in scholarly readings where finding such information could be crucial.
Another thing that was mentioned was that books should be preserved as an object of culture. Books have, especially in premodern times, been a very influential part of the culture; and preserving books (especially originals) has the potential to offer a nuanced understanding to a historical period that might not be possible through a straightforward study of history. In addition, preserving things like Coleridge’s letters are important for issues involving issues of authenticity, literary criticism, and of course, simple pleasure.
One of the panelists mentioned that books are a tactile art akin to architecture and should be preserved as such. The modern books that we are accustomed to carrying around might not seem like art, but if you think about much older books with elaborate illustrations and calligraphic print you can see the validity of this statement.
One thing that was mentioned in passing but not discussed in great detail (and I now regret not asking a question about it) was books being a form of active entertainment and other forms of media as passive entertainment. Although it is not directly relevant to the book/e-book situation, it did make me think about the effects of the way we take in information. How will the prevalence of passive entertainment such as television, video games, and web browsing effect our thinking in the long term? And how might that change be reflected in our academia and the way we pass information to future generations? Is the ease and availability with which we can access information always a good thing?
But I digress. The things I mentioned above were of course not the only things that were mentioned, but the ones I thought were particularly interesting and relevant. And again, I highly recommend attending it on Friday if you haven’t been yet.