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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

“About Books” Debuts

Our moderated discussion took a brief vacation and returns this week with a new name: “About Books.” As a public library we have always been “about books” and thought the new title better reflected the posts that appear here each week.

The definition of the book is in transition so I decided to research the origin of the term. Until recently a “book” described “a written or printed work of fiction or non-fiction usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound together within covers.”

According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “book” comes from the Old English “bok,” which in term derives from a Germanic root for “beech,” perhaps originating from the beech wood tablets that runes were inscribed on. Latin and Sanskrit have words for writing that are based on tree names, as well – “birch” and “ash” respectively -- according the above etymology dictionary.

If you studied ancient civilizations in grammar school, you’ll recall that when writing systems were first invented, anything from stone, clay, metal sheets, as well as tree bark could be written on. This evolved into the papyrus scrolls used by the Egyptians, then to the wax and wooden tablets that began to appear in the 3rd and 4th centuries. This codex form was more efficient because it could be written on both sides. Ultimately the codex became the familiar book of today.

So, it shouldn’t seem strange that books can now take on a new – electronic – form and be read on all types of devices – e-readers, tablets, even smart phones.
It is just another step in the evolution of the written word.

If you are interested in the history of books and writing, here are a few books to browse:

The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future by Robert Darnton

Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture by Nicholas Basbanes

Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Libraries and the E-Book Dilemma: Part II

When HarperCollins announced last month that it would limit the number of times e-books sold to libraries could be checked out, some in the library profession were outraged (see March 9 post below). A piece this week on National Public Radio (“The Future of Books in the E-Book Age,” April 4, 2011) offers a more nuanced approach to the controversy.

"The HarperCollins limit isn't going to stick," argues Christopher Platt, director of collections and circulation in at the New York Public Library. "It's going to develop into something new. And Harper, to its credit, is engaged with libraries to see what would work."

Platt, according to the NPR piece, offers one solution – a subscription model. Since libraries use intermediary vendors to buy their books, he believes libraries and vendors could develop subscription packages with publishers.

“So I'd buy a title with 1,000 uses, and then it's up to us and our readers whether those 1,000 uses get used simultaneously in the first few days or whether they get drawn out over time," Platt says. "And then if they do get used quickly, we'll buy more."

Another more visionary scenario is offered by Eli Neiburger, the director for IT and production at the Ann Arbor District library. He thinks libraries might want to deal directly with authors or the holder of the rights to e-books.

"The goal of the library is to obtain the ability to distribute content to its public. And if we can do that easier and more cheaply with the rights holder or the artist themselves and they make more money on it, then it may be heretical — but the future usually is," Neiburger says in the NPR piece.

Whatever the future of e-books offered by libraries, Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library Association, told NPR she would like to see more publishing companies involved in the discussion, since some do not even offer their titles to libraries.

"When we look at the future then we have to really think very seriously about what is our role — and how can we actually serve the millions and millions of people who use our public libraries everyday if we can't even get access to titles," says Stevens.

Friday, April 01, 2011

After The Last Dance

It’s down to the final four – Kentucky, Connecticut, Butler and our own downstate neighbor VCU. As March Madness spills into April for the final championship games, here’s some recommended reading on the sport. Writing in “The Daily Beast” Joshua Robinson offers his best picks for "Hoop Reads" once the Last Dance ends. A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee and A Season on the Brink: A Year With Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers by John Feinstein top his list.

Here are some other books you might enjoy:

When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball by Seth Davis

Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four by John Feinstein

A Method to March Madness: An Insider’s Look at the Final Four by C.J. Jones

Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball by Michael Litos