Monday, January 24, 2011

Is My Luddism Showing?

I work in a library, and in general, find that the jobs suits me very well indeed. There are a lot of benefits to it, for a bookworm like myself, not the least of which is that I am able to indulge my reading-addiction on a whim without bankrupting myself while I am at it. However, as with most things, there is also a side to modern librarianship, that annoys me exceedingly. To whit, the rather appalling tendency of certain Powers That Be within the public library structure, to talk about "making the library relevant to our times".

Perhaps I am even more old-fashioned than I generally give myself credit for, but libraries have always seemed to me to be rather above the need of re-invention. There primary function is educational. They are repositories of knowledge and literature. A really good library will have an extensive, and well-maintained non-fiction section, which will contain everything from works of the major philosophers, to study books for obtaining one's contractor's license. There will be plays, and poetry, the maths and sciences, books on languages, geography and geology. There should be fiction too, but in keeping with the educational function of a library, it should be good fiction, well written and of the sort that will be as worth reading 100 years from now as it is today. At least, that is how I have always thought of a library should be.

In practice, however, the relentless drive towards "making the library relevant" has meant that there is an emphasis on novelty, and that the novelties tend to have less and less bearing on the purpose of a library. This shows up in various ways: an unnecessarily generous portion of the book budget going towards shiny, new best sellers, even if works of classical (and therefore, enduring) literature must be deleted to make room for them. Or the introduction of clubs or programs, whose sole purpose is to get people through the doors (therefore proclaiming the library's relevancy) rather than promoting education. Fortunately, the library I work for, tends to be fairly restrained in this regard. Our librarian is very good at finding the balance between the new and shiny, and the old and worthwhile. The programs we offer, tend, for the most part, to both be educational, and entertaining. Every once and a while, though, some new trend comes along, and our library jumps at it. The most recent is the addition of e-books and online audio books to the system, and, much to my irritation, I was required, last week, to learn how to set up the software and use the vile things.

I shall now freely admit that I am very resistant to change. I am the sort of person who has to believe that the good coming out of a change is so great as to make up for the bother of changing at all. No, I am not afraid of change. If something is not working, it is not working, and the sooner we get that sorted, the better. However, change, in our present society, does not usually mean fixing something that is not working. More often than not, it is some clever individual's chance to re-design the wheel. And there is the problem that I tend to have with technology, especially when technology encroaches upon my personal indulgences. Not that technology does not have a place. I am not a complete Luddite. I have a blog, after all.

E-books, however, are a form of technology that I have very little patience for. I suppose they have a place. I could see downloading a number of books into a device when one is travelling, so as to avoid a 50 lb backpack, full of books, because you never know when you might need something to read. (Yes, that is how I travel.) I could see the benefit of buying an e-book of an out of print book, that one really wants to read and cannot get any other way. I could see the advantage of using an e-book in the place of the $200 college text books I have been hearing about lately. However, I cannot see a single benefit of e-books as a regular library service. It defeats the purpose of most relevancy schemes, in that it does not get people through the doors. The cursory run-through of the program, to which I was subjected, turned up only the usual selection of bestsellers. Since we order multiple copies of those anyway, and since we are only allowed to own a certain number of electronic copies of each book, I cannot see how the e-book will significantly cut down on the waiting list for those items. People who are interested in anything besides the usual commercial bookstore-type offerings are tough out of luck. The software necessary to run the books takes close to an hour to download, and is sufficiently tedious and confusing to permanently discourage me from ever doing it for myself. (And will, no doubt prompt a rather large number of calls from confused patrons, whom we will have to attempt to placate.) I was quite disgusted with the whole matter, and made my disapproval rather plainer than I ought.

I think, though, the main problem I have with e-books, is that I am passionately devoted to the experience of reading a book. Ideally, I prefer my books to be hard-covered, or at least, well-bound and attractive. I like the weight of a book in my hands. I like the sound the pages make when I turn them. I like the ability to fan through it, and look at the illustrations, if illustrations there be, or to see how long it is til the end of the chapter, and whether it is worth putting off something important, until I get there. I like the dust-and-excitement smell of old books, and the look of the printed word on the cream-coloured page. I compulsively collect books, and like the look of them, sitting companionably together in my shelves, full of knowledge, adventure, passion and character. For all the benefits and e-book might provide, it will never provide the same experience as reading a genuine book. I resent their encroachment into me life, even in so slight a fashion as an icon on my computer at work. (Which I have no intention of ever using.) I resent being told that e-books are the way of the future. I resent having people tell me what I could do to disguise my e-book (should I ever find myself in possession of such a thing) to resemble a real book as much as possible. I particularly object to other people finding my objections amusing. However, I rather fancy that I am not the only person to feel this way, so I doubt the demise of the book is quite so imminent as everyone says it is!


Cat said...


I'm glad to see you showed some restraint. :-)

Mahri said...

Thanks. I try ;-)

Molly said...

I was going to say "Amen," too, and then I got on here and see that Cat beat me to it. . .so I can only second the "Amen."

You get extra points for the phrase "dust-and-excitement smell." It's splendid!

Mahri said...

Thanks for that!

Teresa said...

Heheh, You *Hates* the e-book. grrrr