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August 27, 2010


Scott McFatridge

I have doubts that books will eventually become "wholly unnecessary for the advancement of learning". I might be extrapolating too much from my own experience, but I don't think that many people will ever want to read lengthy or demanding books from their computer - would you be willing to read the Critique of Pure Reason from your computer, for instance?

The tangibility of books is a benefit that many people still recognize, I think. Highlighting and annotating a PDF file simply isn't the same as marking up a book. Thus, I think that books will still have a role in the advancement of learning, albeit a diminished one.


"By cajolery, threats, exhortation, and constant vigilance the librarians of today must guard their treasures against this danger which lurks in the distant corner where, amid his livid lights and chemical smells, the photographer has his lair."

Such was the reaction, in 1941, to the "devouring monster of the microfilm pressure table." (W. A. Jackson, Papers of the Biblio. Soc. of America 35) A similarly inflated rhetoric is not uncommon in bibliophilic discussions of Google Books, E-readers and the like. And indeed it's hard not to think of the Kindle as a sort of 'malin appareil', it's very name hinting that you may now ignite your library.

But many, if not all, worries about the book's loss of stature seem peripheral to the actual advancement of learning. E.g., if two people are discussing the First Critique the medium in which they read it, pace Marshall McLuhan, is immaterial. (One could argue that this holds for the language in which they read it too.) One couldn't seriously argue that a tool like EEBO hasn't been a boon for scholars, especially those outside the traditional centers of academia. The concern here, instead, is that without a proper training in bibliography our's and future generations might mistake EEBO's holdings for 'the' comprehensive bibliographic record.

Reading from a screen doesn't quash Lichtenberg's quip: "A book is a mirror. When an ass looks in, no apostle can look out."

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I would have to disagree with your statement that books are unnecessary to the advancement of learning. When have books become like that? There can never be any form of media which can defeat books when it comes to teaching people about life in general. Books has become life itself. What bookworms find with reading is the feeling of adventure when they grab hold a book and spend few hours finishing them that they were able to see another life through it.

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