As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I had the pleasure of attending the ‘Paperless Pedagogy’ Workshop run by the AUC. As a former librarian, I’ve been quite keen to be involved in ADFI’s eBook projects. What I have noticed in the several years of different projects at both public and academic libraries is that the eBook conversation is capable of morphing into many different beasts. My aim in a short series of posts will be to look at some of these.
Around the same time as the Workshop, I caught the 1991 movie ‘Toy Soldiers’. The premise is very simple – an exclusive Boy’s School is taken over by a heavily armed group of drug dealers who try to ransom one of their number from the US Government. As the siege continues, the boys continue classes out on the green and it is during one of these classes the Headmaster holds up a book. ‘The men here will go away and cease to matter’ he says. ‘But this will outlast them – this will endure’ (or words to that effect).
I’m certainly not going to espouse the belief that paper books are going to disappear completely – I’d be highly sceptical of it happening within my lifetime – but a twenty-year-old quote is certainly being challenged.
Australia has had a tumultuous year in terms of the book industry. Within weeks of each other, Borders, and Angus & Robertson announced closure of all stores. In total, over 2500 employees and 250 stores were closed across the nation. Of course, the media gave us soundbites of concerned shoppers who all spoke about the future of the book – but online was a completely different story as bloggers posted about Amazon and BookDepository which shifted the debate to pricing, rather than a love of books.
Whenever I have spoken to people (especially during a previous life in a public library) there is always a strong emotional undertone to the discussion of eBooks. About eight years ago when our Library trialled an early eBook reader, borrowers spoke about glare, portability, that a ‘real’ book didn’t need recharging or simply that they ‘felt wrong’ (one patron insisted he wouldn’t use eBooks as they didn’t smell right).
At the heart of the issue is what the O’Reilly Media book What is ePub3? eloquently describes as the “ephemeral ‘reading experience’”. How people interact with books, and what they expect from a reading experience is individual. Many of us can recall a favourite childhood book, or a particularly striking piece of literature. I mostly read fiction outside of work – because my interest lies in how playfully, insightfully or intelligently an author can evoke language. Neil Gamian’s American Gods, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash are all fine examples where the evocation of language is just as important as the story.
For me, then, is it the content, or the container which is more important? After using the Kindle for a month now, I’m inclined to weigh in on the side of content. Whilst I love the feel of a hardcover book, the Kindle delivers a comparable experience. I’m not going to suddenly replace the five hundred or so books I own with e-copies, but I’ll be considering buying some items in e-format in the future. The argument shouldn’t be an either/or for print or eBook, but rather a conversation around print and eBook. This rings true for the inclusion of technology, especially in a broader, societal context – provide the end user with a range of options and let them interact comfortably.
The ePub format impacts on this concept of the ‘reader experience’ and in many ways offers the end user more opportunities. Next week, I’ll explore some book apps and titles which are redefining what a book is, and how people can use them – and also discuss how easy it is for user-generated eBooks to see publication.
In my next post, I will discuss how eBooks can go beyond the traditional reader experience and engage people in new ways.
Adrian Stagg (Learning Technologist (Co-Pilot)