Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Saga of Print vs. Digital Continued

In an earlier post I wrote about the alleged end of books. In this post I’ll explore a few reasons why I think digital media are not ready to replace print. Whenever I hear someone say, “People love books. Books will be around forever!” I think that’s a true but over-enthusiastic and simplistic statement. But when I hear others say, “We don’t need these books anymore. Everything should be online! Get rid of these expensive books and the library housing them!” I think that’s someone who a) probably doesn’t read many books and b) does not understand the complexity of digital documents.

Yet it is a relevant question. Do we continue pouring millions of (taxpayer) dollars into libraries – the building, the staff, the PRINT materials – when our world is rapidly changing into an online global community?


The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2009, over 68% of American households have Internet access at home. While that is awesome, what about the other 32% who need to use materials? That’s a few million people we’re talking about. Many libraries restrict the amount of time you get on a computer. If you can’t get your research done in 30 minutes, sorry bucko. This is why print materials are important. They can be taken home for days, weeks and months at a time – for free. No batteries, no technology needed to view a document. Free.

Ok, so what about research libraries. Most of their patrons are highly educated and have easier access to the Internet. So access is not a major problem. Currency is a major issue. Medical researchers need the newest information so they make the best possible decisions for their patients. You wouldn’t want your doctor using books from 20 years ago would you? So, what do we do with all these outdated books? Do we house them for the rare individual doing historical research? They are few, these historical researchers, but a significant minority and important.

Should we take all the old books and digitize them? The old books would be available online/ in a digital format for historical researchers and we could save money by shutting down the book housing facility. But there’s a small problem. It is not possible in the foreseeable future to digitize every book. It takes massive amounts of man power to digitize a collection. It just isn’t feasible right now. Think about the Google Books project. It’s slow going and they must choose what they think are the most important books – they can’t get everything. If we rely on an initiative like Google Books (as cool as it may be) we will lose information from the past. That’s a little scary.

There are issues even Google can’t get around when it comes to making traditionally print materials available in digital format. That’s copyright. It’s enough to make your head spin. Copyright issues alone are enough to hinder universal online access.

Here's the biggest reason I don’t think digital resources are ready to be the next King of Text. There is as yet no way to guarantee that digital resources will be around next week let alone forever.  Preservation issues have haunted the physical book for hundreds of years. We’ve literally had centuries to learn how to preserve paper. But preserving bit streams, those ones and zeros that make up your computer’s memory, how on earth do we save those? It’s not as simple as copy and paste.

Hardware mediums change approximately every 5 years. How likely are you to buy an 8-track, a cassette or a floppy disk? Software is updated constantly. Switching from one hardware/software to another, called migration, is fraught with digital dangers. Documents can become unreadable in part or whole. Eek! Now, obviously companies manage to function with this “acceptable loss” of information. But should we trust all our information to digital repositories with these issues unresolved?

Let’s talk about subscriptions. I subscribe to Better Homes and Gardens. I pay for it, it arrives and I can read it for as long as the pages hold together. Libraries pay huge bucks, thousands of dollars, to subscribe to digital journals they do not get physical copies of. Ok, so what. They don’t want the physical copies because space is an issue. But ownership is an issue. The vendor providing the subscription can go out of business, change its policies or the library can decide it can’t afford the service anymore. All those journals the library paid for go poof! They don’t have a copy anymore. When you buy physical copies you get the text forever (or the life of the paper on which it’s printed). When you buy digital you don’t always get copies so information is lost when a subscription is canceled. This happens. And it’s another reason that digital documents aren’t ready to take over planet Earth.

There are initiatives going on to solve these problems. LOCKSS (lots of copies keep stuff safe) is based at Stanford University Libraries and tries to deal with the subscription issue. It’s a step in the right direction. But for now, print is our only guarantee that information will remain available for years to come. I believe digital issues will be solved (some distant day) and that print will take the back seat. But until then, the book is needed and should be valued and given space in our facilities.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Musings of a Grad Student at The Hop

 "Since Thanksgiving is coming up next week, let's use this week's Hop to share what we are most thankful for and what our holiday traditions are!" Excellent idea! 

At present I am most thankful that I am on break from school! This past week has been incredibly stressful. I had to write a paper, prepare a presentation (oh, how I loathe giving presentations! I thought I was going to puke before I started. Rapid heartbeat. Sweaty palms. Sooo glad that's over!), and choose a research topic (eek!). But it's all over now and I think I chose a great topic - video games in the library. I am thankful that I have the next few days to sleep and read about one of my favorite past times. 

I am looking forward to seeing my family for Thanksgiving. We alternate years between my husband's fam and my fam's gatherings. This year is with the in-laws. As I recall the last T-day at the in-laws, my father-in-law cooked the turkey and it was sooo salty. lol. We managed to eat plenty anyways. I suspect we'll be stuffing ourselves again this year while playing various types of games.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney

Change is in the air. Greg is excited for boy-girl parties and learning about "the facts of life" in his Advanced Health class. But growing up can be a little overwhelming. What's he to do without his best friend, Rowley, at his side? Will he starve to death when his mom goes back to school?  Greg begins to realize that maybe he shouldn't be in such a hurry to grow up. I mean, Greg + Responsibility = disaster waiting to happen.

Greg makes a lot of honest mistakes in The Ugly Truth. In the previous books, Greg makes deliberate plans to cut corners or shirk responsibility. Other times he couldn't help but be a prankster. But in this book we see how hard learning to be responsible is for a free spirit like Greg. The idea is so foreign to him. Greg's growing up whether he wants to or not. He tries and often fails at the most simple of tasks... but isn't that a part of growing up? Slowly, Greg begins to realize how hard being an adult is and how much he has to be thankful for. Of course, Greg does not verbalize this. Instead he gives a sigh of relief when he realizes he has supportive parents to fall back on. But that's what adolescence should be about - testing your wings in a safe environment.

I liked The Ugly Truth more than the previous book, Dog Days. Rowley and Greg are still at odds but they can't hold out much longer. I laughed a lot so if you need a humor break this book should do the trick. My favorite "episodes" were the trip to the dentist, the maid bit, and the miscommunication concerning an elbow.

This is the fifth book in the Wimpy Kid series. You can read my mini reviews of books 1-4 here. They're great books for reluctant readers or anyone with a sense of humor. I wonder if Kinney will continue with a 6th. I'm hoping for one more. Do guys think he should write one  more or should he stop while Greg's young?

Publisher: Amulet, 2010    Pages: 217     Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 4 Stars     Recommended Age: 9 and up

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"The End of Books" by Octave Uzanne: A Short Story Saturday Feature

There's been speculation that the physical book as we know it is on its way out. What with Kindles, audio books and the plethora of articles online, sometimes it feels like print could disappear and the world would still function. This is an issue my classmates and I have been discussing and it hits a tender nerve with me. Honestly, I think it's going to be a long time before digital resources could be in the position to trump print. I have my reasons which we'll begin to explore today and more so in my next post.

This man started it all. Johannes Gutenberg's movable type press, invented in 1439, lead the way to the mass production of books that we revel in today. Many thanks Johannes! Print's role as King of Text has been challenged for quite some time. The print vs. digital saga we're experiencing now is just another skirmish in an ongoing battle for textual dominance. Would it surprise you to to know that people have been thinking about this issue for over a hundred years?

Octave Uzanne  (1851-1931) was a French bibliophile, author, journalist and book snob extraordinaire (see link for photos of his lavish books). If you're a book lover or intrigued by the print vs. digital issue, I think you will enjoy this short story.

I give you "The End of Books."

My Reactions: 
I was surprised at how accurate some of Uzanne’s predictions were. Of course, the phonograph with wax cylinders did not last long. But the idea for audio books is there which I found interesting. However, Uzanne pokes fun at the idea of audio books. He suggests people can’t be bothered to strain their eyes to read (or they’re just too lazy to read) so they listen to books instead. What do you all think of this idea? Do audio books offer the exact same experience that reading a book does? I’ve often wondered about this (hmm… maybe I should research this topic!). What is the same? What is different?

New media brings new possibilities and challenges. Edison’s phonograph made recording audio possible. Uzanne envisions authors becoming narrators and since anybody can talk anybody can record – good writers or not! Surely the quality of self-published material will be far inferior to anything recognized by peers and published by a respectable publishing house. Right? Or, no? What about blogging? Isn’t it the same concept – anybody can publish whether they’re good at creating content or not. Unlike Uzanne, I’ve never bemoaned this fact. I find it exciting that more and more people can reach a greater audience though self-publishing efforts. Good content will, in time, find more readers and the not-so-good content will find less readers. Marketing strategies aside, I think it’s that simple.

What I agree/disagree on with Uzanne:
  • Agree: Other forms of textual media will rise that will become popular (like audio books and e-readers) but they will not utterly replace the book. 
  • Agree: The mass production of books means many will be created that are not meant to last.
  • Disagree: The mass production of anything less than “literature” of the highest quality will lead to the doom of man’s intelligence! Smart people are naturally drawn to nerdy, smart things and won’t stop because someone wrote, and they read, a subpar book (example: I read and relatively enjoyed Twilight. No, my brain has not quit working).
  • Agree: Print is a large, integral part of our industry and will not be snuffed out in only a few years because new media emerged. Even though bookstores have been closing (we are in a recession after all), book publishers are hanging in there and still produce large numbers of physical books.
  • Agree: The aesthetic experience of holding and reading a book cannot be duplicated. Either it’s paper or it isn’t.
  • Disagree: Author as publisher means too much bad literature! Author as publisher means more good literature (that might never have surfaced under other circumstances).
For all Uzanne’s foresight he does not envision the complicated digital world we live in today. My posts live online (via the server who stores them for me) and in a document file on my computer. I have no physical copies. Will Blogger store my blog posts for the next 10 years, my lifetime, forever? What if my computer crashes and I lose all my documents? What about online articles and ebooks?

Keep an eye out for "The Saga of Print vs. Digital Continued." Today’s post scratched the surface of why digital resources are not ready to act as King of Text. In my follow up post I’ll discuss exactly why digital media are not yet trustworthy enough to store all of planet Earth’s information as well as ongoing efforts to remedy this issue.

This has been a Short Story Saturday feature. Happy reading!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Culling the Reader: My Reactions to Lost "Followers"

I wasn't planning on doing the Hop today but this week's Book Blogger Hop question is a good one! "What are your feelings on losing followers? Have you ever stopped following a blog?"
Loosing followers is sad but I realize people's readers fill up, their interests change and my blog may not be what they're looking for anymore. I've lost a few and the first time I was really really sad. I thought about it all day. What did I do wrong? What's wrong with my blog? What if no one's reading my stuff anymore! Then I realized what I care about is a) writing my thoughts out for me because writing does me good and b) getting comments from readers who may say "Nice review" or "I've been thinking about this issue, too." That's the good stuff regardless of how many Google followers I have. 
On comments: I have a separate email just for The Prairie Library. Every time I receive a new comment it goes straight to my email and my Blackberry. So, whether I'm walking to work or watching TV, I see what  you have to say. I LOVE getting comments from you all! They brighten my day. Thanks to everyone who reads my posts and an especially big thanks to those who comment and share your thoughts. You make this blogging experience wonderful!

Do I ever stop following? Yes, on occasion. Usually the blogger stops posting for a month. Or, the content has changed or my tastes have changed. I don't feel bad. If I never read or comment on their posts then there's no use following! I know the blog writer will probably be sad like I usually am but hopefully they'll come to the same conclusions that I have.

Review: A Balanced Introduction to Computer Science, 2nd ed. by David Reed

Have you ever been curious how exactly your computer works? Maybe you’d like to learn a little HTML to have more control over your blog or website? Are you a tiny bit intimidated to learn anything “technical”? Fear no more! Computer Science introduces the basics of computers and computer language and is geared for beginners. You won’t need anything extra, no fancy software, just your computer with a Web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox. Having Internet access will help but isn’t completely necessary.

This is a textbook so expect each chapter to read like a lesson. There are exercises, some explained and some which challenge you to put new concepts to work on your own. I liked the hands on approach of the textbook and really, diving in and doing the assignments is the only way to really know how to use HTML and JavaScript in your Web Pages. Instead of memorization this book encourages experience.

What will you learn from this book? 
  • The basic architecture of modern computers (like how on earth a computer “remembers” anything) 
  • HTML basics to create Web Pages 
  • The history of computers 
  • The history of the Web (which is not the same thing as the Internet) 
  • JavaScript basics for creating interactive Web Pages
  • Algorithm basics – what are they and how they are used in computers
I don’t think this text makes a great reference book. It’s really for instruction. There are only a few times I felt the instructions weren’t very clear. In these cases the assignments began to assume great familiarity with the material already covered. So, keep up with the exercises! I did like the online resources available, for free, to supplement the text. Often, Reed asks you to access Web sites he's created for instruction so you can see the HTML/JavaScript and build off it.

I’ve used the word “basic” many times. If you’re looking to roll up your sleeves and become a Web designer or computer scientist this text may be too simple for you. But, if you’re a beginner like me, A Balanced Introduction to Computer Science is a good place to begin.

Publisher: Pearson, 2008     Pages: 342 (380 to the index)
Rating: 3.5 Stars     Source: Purchased on Amazon 
P.S. I read this book for a MLIS class.