Some recent information suggests that the demise of the book awaits mankind. Indeed the electronic book reader services consistently post increased usage, and more and more people are purchasing these readers.
Added to this phenomenon is the reality of so many book stores entering into bankruptcy or closing stores, including Borders, Barnes & Noble and locally, Joseph Beth.
Writing has been around for perhaps 9,000 years, and bound books since the fourth century, but it was not until after 1440, when the printing press was invented, that books really became a fairly common item available to a wider population, and it was no longer royalty or clergy alone who had access to the printed word.
Today, large libraries exist around the world, including the Library of Congress, which contains some 30 million volumes, and the New York Public Library with 20 million.
If books were to become obsolete, would our libraries become nothing more than depositories for historical matter, or would they be converted to places where the public could come, access an electronic reader and select material to view while there? Is it likely that libraries would eventually offer their clientele the opportunity to check out a reader for the purpose of reading the latest writing of John Grisham, or a work of Mark Twain or Will Durant?
To lovers of books these scenarios are unthinkable.
There is something very comforting in holding a book, in smelling the subtle aroma of quality paper, in being able to peruse the pages at will, to go back and forth looking for a passage brought to mind by something further along in the writing. There is something desirable in recalling something read weeks, months, or years ago and removing a book from the shelf to find it once again.
There is also something to be said for not having to buy batteries in order to read a book or to plug one into an electrical outlet for re-charging.
There is also some indication that collegiate book suppliers are considering renting books to students rather than require their purchase. To anyone who has had to purchase a college textbook lately, this idea is likely one that will gain wide acceptance. Numerous college courses require a student to purchase more than one text, and the cost of such multiple purchases quickly add up. Additionally, it is not uncommon for a required textbook to change from one year to the next, so a student who purchases a book for a particular class may not be able to sell that book back to be re-cycled as a used textbook if it is not scheduled to be used again.
One might also think of what happens to all the valuable classic literature over time. Will it all be stored as digital information somewhere? Of course, it’s possible that great libraries will become nothing more than depositories of great literature, but it might become impossible for someone to actually remove a book from a library.
All this conjures up images from the book and movie “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, in which the fire department is tasked with burning books and a clandestine community is formed in which the members individually learn — word for word — an important piece of literature in order to pass it along to future generations. This scenario, I hope, only exists in some Orwellian future, but literature is priceless and should be maintained in some tangible form.
If all literature is consigned to a digital format, it is possible that future developments which make technology obsolete will render those formats unreadable and mankind will revert to passing along its information by word of mouth, as our ancient ancestors did.
At the risk of being characterized as a Luddite, one should not so easily embrace modern technology as a proven means of protecting our heritage.
To those who cherish the feel of a good book on a cold evening in front of a roaring fireplace, the prospect of having their reading material inside an e-book may not be something eagerly awaited.