Considerations on the future of books

It’s happens all the time.  At cocktail parties, when told that I’m a librarian, people ask about the future of the book.  Do iPads, smartphones, Kindles, Fires and Nooks mean the end of books?  I answer with the question “How much time do you have?”

The short answer is No, books aren’t going away.  There are simply too many of them for the actual physical pages bound between two covers things to disappear.

The slightly longer answer is digital information technology and books have a complex relationship.  One telltale sign of this relationship is that personal computing and programming actually generated a whole new category of books – think of all those “How to…” books, LINX in a Nutshell, the Internet Guide for Dummies.  Having books delivered to an digital reader changes how some books are read (more and more riders of the MBTA here in Boston are setting aside their paperbacks, and now read off a screen during their commute), but the basic structure  still remains – chapters, pages, tables of contents and title page are how we talk about e-books. The DNA of e-books comes from traditional books.

In addition to the new creative forms that will come out of mashups that are possible in a digital format, this digital technology is transforming what use to be call vanity publishing. True story – about two weeks ago, a book, complete with dust jacket, written by my Uncle David arrived in the mail.  He had been researched our family tree, and the result was a beautiful bound volume filled with his prose and old family photos.  He created the book, Looking Back: A History of Our Families,  with blurb.com, and I would guess that there are no more than 50 copies extent. It points to the emergence of a very new, very specialized book that digital technology makes possible.

And, of course, the extremely long answer to the future of the books is, time will tell.

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