Thursday, May 5, 2011

Is There Still Hope for the Good Old Fashioned Book?

I chose to read Robert Darnton's The Case For Books for the digital culture reading assignment. I decided to listen to the audiobook version, I thought it would be ironic if I listened to, instead of read, a book that advocates the continuing need for physical books in our society. Overall, I enjoyed it. The book made some interesting points.

Darnton brought up a few good arguments for why the codex, the traditional book, will continue to be around in the age of E-readers and portable computers. He says the number of new paper titles published each year will soon reach a million. Darnton also says books have proven their durability, while new technology is quickly overshadowed by even newer technology almost daily.

Another interesting point he brought up was that newer technology does not always replace the older. For example, the radio did not replace books, television did not replace the radio, and so on.

I recently got a job at the Harold B. Lee Library and, consequently, that is where I spent most of my time listening to this book. It turns out I expanded my library vocabulary just in time to easily understand the difference between monographs, serials, and research journals. I was amazed by some of the figures Darnton presented about how much money goes into buying library materials. Apparently some research journal subscriptions (online content) cost more than $10,000 a year, this leaves less and less money available to be spent on printed books. It also puts librarians in the difficult position of deciding whether to ignore books in favor of more readily available and up to date content. This is a hard choice, the type of person who becomes a librarian, I assume, loves traditional books but also yearns for continuous knowledge. Will books be able to keep up with the many breakthroughs that are being discovered?

We all know one of the best parts of a book is how it smells, well, Darnton says, "According to a recent survey of French students, 43 percent consider smell to be one of the most important qualities of printed books—so important that they resist buying odorless electronic books. CafeScribe, a French online publisher, is trying to counter-act that reaction by giving its customers a sticker that will give off a musty, bookish smell when it is attached to their computers.” CafeScribe launched its scratch and sniff stickers back in 2007 , sadly I don't think they caught on because I can't find anything about it now... too bad.
Flickr -King's College Library (Creative Commons)


  1. "I thought it would be ironic if I listened to, instead of read, a book that advocates the continuing need for physical books in our society." hahaha I thought that was funny and clever of you :p

  2. I listened to this book as well, and it was quite ironic. I loved the part of the book-smelling stickers attached to the electronic devices; I also wondered what happened with that project. Reading a book with one of those stickers would be an interesting experience.