Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Greetings, reader.

I haven't been writing much this spring, I still seek the balance between reading and writing. I seek stillness and seek to avoid it. Finding stillness means not giving in to the temptations of looking at social media outlets, the tantalizing photos on Flickr or updates from friends on ThatBook. Putting away the cell phone, closing my office door.

Do you struggle to find the stillness? Do you need stillness to read? To really read, when suddenly the voice on the page is inside your head and you can ever so gently slip the traces of everyday to slide into the narrative of another.

Perhaps it is just this point in the semester, the ugly point when projects pile up, teetering dangerously towards incompletion or being fatally overdue. As I trudged to the library this morning, so many others around me on their own trudge, I saw that we were all in the final stages of the marathon of the semester, but all headed for different finish lines. I wish I could commission a cadre of cheerful volunteers to pass out cups of Gatorade to all the campus trudgers and have those volunteers cheer us on to the end, to graduation. This is also the season of celebrating when you do not feel like celebrating. The pressure of those unmet deadlines casts a gloom over the season of banquets, convocations, ceremonies...all while the itch of summer and the blooming madness of spring leads to a melancholy bookcharmer.

I haven't a real reason to be melancholy, which is perhaps why I'm indulging in it. My only perceived melancholia I diagnose as a lack of exposure to paper. Ah, paper. The little inventory I am undertaking in Special Collections of the periodicals collection is leading to new levels of serial addiction. Some titles I have handled, oh, and how I have handled them, are literally composed of breathtaking paper. Soft sheets that have withstood a century or more, and remain complete.

If you were waiting for the plaint of the curmudgeon, and the real source of my moodiness, here it is. E. Access, access everywhere, but not a book to read. I realized this morning as I lay (lie?) in bed, I could be witnessing first hand a revolution no less great than Gutenberg's. Gutenberg used a device to bring books to the masses. Are we now in an era where devices will be the prevention of distribution?

The situation is this: to access the e-books which many libraries now subscribe to, you must have a device. Besides the device, you must have power. If you are accessing the book via the Internet, you must have Internet access. Three things you must have before you can just read that book.

Some ten, fifteen years ago, the phrase Digital Divide started appearing in librarian conversation. At that time, I recall feeling fairly confident that Libraries were going to Be There for the people who needed us to put a bridge across that divide. Now that digital divide is feeling like the Grand Canyon of chasms. And until you've done telephone reference for someone who got a Kook, Nindle, or eye-Pad as a present and is now calling the library to learn how to use it, I don't want to hear your perspective on how easy and fun ebooks are. If you are highly fluent in information technology, do not weary of constantly upgrading your devices and its various "readers" and don't mind being put on a "waiting" list for an electronic book, then you are not in the Digital Canyon and I don't feel like talking to you. (I said I was crabby.)

Hmm. Apparently this blog is less about paper than it is about the churning thoughts I've had about e-books lately. Fine. I'll let my id take over and see if I can explain some current problems.

#1. If you are a vendor, and you do not allow libraries to have multiple user access to titles, you are doing it wrong. It is unbearably painful to explain to someone why an "e-book" is checked out. It isn't checked out, it is embargoed from more than one person using the content at one time, which is not the same as being checked out.

#2. Some of you, and I'll be kind and not name names here, are supplying abysmal catalog records for your e-titles. I mean abysmal. Typographical errors. Inaccurate summaries, which book records do not traditionally include. Subject headings that are not hyperlinked. This is inexcusable.

A larger fear is the unsupportable workload of porting texts through the myriad of file types that will undoubtedly appear in the next 30 years. And the contracts--will contracts signed in 2012 for perpetual access to a title be valid 30 years from now?

The stillness is hard to find on a device.

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