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The Tree is Dead; Long Live the Tree!

I ran across an interesting post and response on Facebook today. The post is a very thoughtful insight to the whole eBook conundrum, painting eBooks as not much more than a marketing ploy. He makes some good points, but I will have to disagree with him, based mostly on the number of patrons I'm seeing (and from whom I'm getting phone calls) that want or need help with their shiny new eReaders that they got for Christmas or for a birthday present, and his final statement about eBooks being a distraction from the library's mission. The All These Birds With Teeth blog, authored by Joe Grobelny, states:

Finding ways to help people access information, for pleasure or otherwise, and then giving them the tools and the know-how to create new knowledge is bigger than books or ebooks. The true mission of the library is to lower the barriers for access into the “information economy” and frankly, the ebook is a distraction from the real mission of libraries.

Now, it seems to me that his statements here are contradictive. If the eBook is another medium through which people access information (think New York Times, e-textbooks, and online encyclopedias), then wouldn't the mission of the library be also to help that person get over the "barrier for access into the information economy?" Not sure I understand his statements here, unless it is to illustrate that the whole eBook fracas with HarperCollins is a distraction from the library's relevancy as a community support center. Perhaps it is, but then it just hurts the publisher, because several authors have come forward publicly in support of libraries, and even have denounced the actions of HarperCollins.

Claire Eike, a librarian for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, posted two responses, the second of which is the one that got my wheels turning:

...we see all these studies that people are reading significantly less. I think we have to redefine "reading" to include online reading and dialoging.

I couldn't agree more with Claire. Reading needs to be redefined to include online & electronic media. Reading is so much more than words printed on dead trees these days, and really has been transforming from paper to electrons for several years. School children are even being given electronic textbooks (e-textbooks), school libraries are going all-digital, and some schools are even handing out iPads for student use! With the advent of computers getting cheap enough for the average person to afford, the transformation started. Granted, back in the 1980s a PC cost well over $2000, but it was still cheap enough that more of the public could put one in their homes. Then, when services like AOL came along and offered "cheap" dial-up Internet service (for $29.99/minute!) it became even easier for people to do research online, then printing what they needed on their tractor feed, dot-matrix printer.

In the 20 years or so since, more and more advances have been made, to the point that we can now carry a device on our hip, or in our pocket, that has more computing capacity than those first PCs. On those "smart" phones, which are now more like tablet computers that make phone calls, we can watch video or read eBooks, which are really not books at all, but electronic files that never go away. And that, of course, is the point of contention for publishers who have obviously not learned anything from the MPAA or the RIAA in their attempts at monetizing online file sharing.

But how many of us actually use them, or need them to the point that we have bought a device dedicated to the purpose of eReading? For my money, I'd get an iPad or an Android tablet, simply because I wouldn't want a single-purpose device. I like to be able to do more on a device that's able to do more. The original Nook, the Sony Readers, and the Kobo Reader all have rudimentary web browsers, but they are horrible for web surfing!

So I can figure about when the tipping point of reading electrons more than paper came about, but how much of that can we attribute to reading works distributed by a publishing house? Technically, a work is published when it is first put into a medium, whether physical or electronic. But how can we track the myriad of blog entries, YouTube videos (many of which are text juxtaposed over a slide show with music), online documents, self-publishing sites and other avenues for authors to distribute their works? Nearly anyone who has an eReader will use an online service from which to download/checkout eBooks, so unless a library is subscribed to a service through which the patron's account gets authenticated, then the library does not get credit for the circulation. How can the definition of reading be made to fit all the new media that come out seemingly yearly, for any purpose?


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
What a great resource!

Jun. 10th, 2011 02:34 pm (UTC)
Apr. 13th, 2011 03:33 am (UTC)
Can't wait to have my say
Hi - I am certainly delighted to find this. cool job!
Jun. 10th, 2011 02:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Can't wait to have my say
Thanks! This is definitely a great place to work!!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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