Sunday, January 10, 2010

out of print?

If you know anything about me, you know how much I love books. Old ones, new ones, kids ones, poetry ones, you name it.  Recently, the e-book phenomenon has been getting plenty of attention – even a spot on CBS Sunday Morning this morning – and so, I thought I would give my two cents on the subject. I am trying. I am trying really hard to understand the need and use for electronic books. I KNOW we live in a world where everything is electronic and accessible and at the tips of our fingers. But, there is something about the publishing industry that has always seemed to me like the epitome of what we stand for – it allows voices to be heard – stories that might otherwise go unnoticed or unseen.  When the printing press was invented more than 500 years ago, it gave way for language and stories to be shared in a way that, until then, had never been possible before. And for the past 500 years…that was enough.  Until now…
I love the idea of being published – that someone would read my writing and think it was worthy of a larger audience than my husband and the dog – who mostly try to stay awake when I read my stuff to them.  I know that even with e-books there are still stories being published, but for me, part of the joy of reading at all is the feeling of a book in my hands, the smell of book binding, and the thought that I am supporting someone else’s creativity.  I understand that the switch to e-books really is only changing the form of the book in question, but what worries me is the inevitable change in how books are sold.  What is to stop all of the mom and pop bookshops from closing their doors in the wake of this phenomenon? How could they possibly compete with downloadable, cheaper versions of these same books that currently fill their shelves?  If I were to ever win the lottery (first I would have to PLAY the lottery, but that's not my point…) I have always wanted to open a little bookstore. There is no place that feels more cozy and comfortable than a small, individually owned bookstore – not a huge three-story megamall Barnes and Noble.  What makes me sad is that these places might soon go by the wayside if the Kindle or the Nook has anything to say about it. 
I guess in a lot of ways this makes me old fashioned. I love my laptop, I couldn’t live without my cell phone or digital cable and all the other technological advances that we didn’t have when I was a kid, but doing away with real, tangible books is something I am just not willing to do. A few months ago I had to take a guided tour of the Miller Nichols library on the campus of UMKC and during the tour, the librarian told us that the new multimillion dollar addition would include the technology to request a book at a kiosk and that book would be “fetched” so to speak, by this new system, and handed to you at the circulation desk.  Huh??? What it means, basically, is that you would never have to actually go rummage around the shelves for books because there is now a computerized robot to do it for you.  Amazing.  And sad. I worry that all of these so called advances will mean my children will never get the joy of searching the shelves of their favorite library or bookstore for that perfect book. Or the surprise of looking for one particular book and instead finding three others they like even more just because they happened to be on the same shelf.  I get upset when I think that they might never know the feeling I get when I open Huckleberry Finn  or To Kill a Mockingbird for the 257th time and look at the folded corners of the pages, or see places where I’ve underlined favorite passages or written in the margins. 
The bookshelves in my home are full of books that are meaningful to me in some way or another. Sure, I have my share of old textbooks and poetry collections, but I also have books that belonged to family and friends who are no longer with me – these are the things I plan to pass to my own girls, just as I hope I can pass my love for reading those books. They are concrete, real evidence of how much their family relied on stories and books for more than just entertainment, and that is something an e-book will never be able to give them.


  1. Good points, I think what you hit upon, that I happen to agree with - that reading a book is a tactile experience. Curling up with the texture, the smell, the attendant environment and state of mind, is part of the experience that makes books so great - and probably helps to emotionally etch them into our minds.

    The other thing is, I stare at computers 12-16 hours a day, my eyes really don't need yet another active screen bombarding me with content. I'll take nice, passive, paper thank you very much.

    An author you might check out, and I suspect might enjoy is Cory Doctorow. His website is Interestingly, he got his start by giving his books away for free electronically, (which he still does) and then the money followed by people choosing to buy his books in print (I own several.)

    His style is pretty eclectic and is definitely evolving, but I've read most of them, if you would like a suggestion.


  2. Hi Kate, I work at UMKC Libraries and just came across your post. Your description of the book robot being constructed at the Miller Nichols Library is pretty accurate and you make a good point about the magic of serendipity when browsing through aisles of books. If you don't mind, however, I do have a little more information regarding our library that I'd like to share. Though 800,000 items will eventually be stored in the robot, we will still have over 200,000 items out and available for browsing on open shelves. Also, we're making sincere and great efforts to enhance our online catalog and online browsing features to try to compensate for any losses made in the name of progress. If you or any of your readers would like more information, or would like a tour of the robot once it's complete this summer, please contact me, Mark, at 816.235.5828

  3. thank you for the information, Mark, I appreciate it! I still maintain that that library is one of my favorite places to spend time - a bazillion books, friendly people, free newspapers (for students) and no screaming children!! I would love to tour the robot - I'm going to be in touch with you about that. thanks again!