in defense of physical books

“Those of you who are considering replacing your libraries with ebooks; think again. Your books are yours; you buy them, you own them, and they are the same, yesterday and today. They will not change, and they will not disappear, or suddenly be “pulled” or “unsourced” from you, as ebooks can be. And someday you may NEED them, to show your children and your grandchildren what the realities of life, of war, of social upheaval really were, before the digital age.” — from Elizabeth Scalia.

Whether or not you agree the entire post, this is an under-discussed point in the debate about the future of publishing. (Calling all dystopian writers, there’s your new Fahrenheit 451 meets 1984 and yes, it was tempting to link to the Kindle editions!)

My own disclaimers: I like the iPad, but since it would require an additional keyboard for me to comfortably type up a novel or screenplay, I see no need for now (though I wouldn’t refuse it as a gift – my birthday is October 18, thanks!). I have a Kindle given to me by a generous friend for plane trips, the laptop and pads of paper work best for my writing and my walls are and will continue to be lined with books.

A young scholar who loves books quotes The Art of Literary Research by Richard Altick:

“Though time is always short, we have the lifelong company of books; and what is more, we have good human companionship… Love of books and a consuming interest in the intellectual and esthetic questions they pose make brothers of men with amazingly different backgrounds and tastes. In scholarship there is no prejudice born of national origin, creed, color, or social class; we live in the truest democracy of all, the democracy of the intellect.”

In addition to the value of physical books for students, there’s real value in learning to research in a traditional library before beginning to research online and the textbook-free university is a step away from that. The administrators responsible for this decision would no doubt protest that there have no plans to digitize entire libraries, but as cost cutting increases, it’s only a matter of time until that library building “can be put to better use” Come on, all that space to store physical books? I wish Ray Bradbury was in better health to comment. Perhaps Fahrenheit 451 was really about a much cooler burn…