Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ex Libris – The book

Long weekends are a wonderful opportunity to think and reflect. Celebrating an anniversary, my wife and I took a trip to the coast and while walking through the hotel store, a book on the shelf captured my eye: “Ex Libris; Confessions of a Common Reader”, by Anne Fadiman. It is no surprise that this title would attract me and I promptly bought it. Published in 1998, I’m not sure how I’ve missed this book over all the years I’ve worked for Ex Libris (the two are unrelated except for the title). During the course of the weekend I read it.

I suspect many of you, like me, would find yourself nodding your head as you read this authors description of her interactions, appreciation and immersion in the world of books. Describing her home, with several walls lined with bookshelves, filled with books, certainly struck home (accompanied by a deep sigh from my wife). A shelf in those bookcases, called the “Odd Shelf” that is lined with books that don’t really fit with the volumes lining the other shelves also struck home. The chapter entitled “Never do that to a book” is a fun read; there are volumes I’ve read many times that still look like new and others I’ve marked up, made notes in the margins and refer to over and over, but I never, ever leave a book face down to mark my place. Overall, I found this work a delightful read for those who love physical books, love holding them, collecting them and working with them.

As I finished the final pages with a satisfaction similar to that I feel when taking the final sips of a fine port, I paused to think and reflect about our rapidly evolving world of e-books and e-resources. Will we lose something irreplaceable as we move towards that world? Or will it simply be an evolution in the vehicle that conveys feelings, ideas, thoughts and knowledge?

Looking at my Kindle and iPad, I see books containing the underlines of others who’ve read them (and how many people underlined it); I see the integration of multi-media and the Web into the text. So, I know the answer to my question is that it will be an evolution. While I’ll be among the last to advocate we slow down our embrace of technology, it is important to remember that reading is a larger experience than just consuming the words. It is also about the hunt for the right book, the embrace and collection of books that says something about who we are and what we care about that is also important. The very experience of reading them involves a number of mechanisms and results we must be sure to carry forth into the future of e-resources in some evolutionary way.

If you need an enjoyable break from our hectic world of technology and trying to harness information, I encourage you to pick this book up and take the journey. It serves as a useful reminder to us technologists of all the things books represent.