Friday, October 9, 2009

The Demise of the Library--Kindle anyone?

With that title I can hear the arguments, the shaking of fists, the unhappiness of those who love much as I love books. I have a bookshelf with a broken shelf because I put too many books on it. So why is this damn fool making such a pronouncement?

It all started with my first understanding of Dyslexia. Some suggest that about five percent have dyslexia, a learning disability that affects primarily reading and spelling and math. Looking at numbers and letters. And it has nothing to do with intelligence. It does appear to be gene related meaning it could run in a family line. I have dyslexia. Didn't know I had it until I went to a workshop on it when I was first teaching and took the test. Further testing appears to support the fact that I do have dyslexia.

So it probably would not be a surprise that some of my research at the university was on how students cope with dyslexia. Since it is primarily a perception problem, I surveyed college students and asked how they read. Some read better with less light, some read better using a gray or blue transparency over the page of the book. Some literally had someone else read the book to them. Coping skills for the college student with dyslexia.

One day my wife and I bought home a Apple Macintosh plus computer--the little one with a gray screen. I notice right away that I could read better with it then I could with books and paper. So I tried it on several of my students. All could read more successful on the screen. One girl did her math and the numbers didn't move about. She was elated. She could read rows of numbers correctly on the Mac Plus. I was on to something.

So, hold that thought. Okay? Now for my second point. There are those who will say that they like holding a book. It feels good. I agree somewhat. There are even those who say that "you will have to pry the book out of these cold hands...." Some say "I like reading in bed." And among my friends there are several who say they like to curl up with the cat on their lap and read a good book. I have read many books in my lifetime. But holding them is not my cup of tea. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is eight hundred and seventy pages. Oh come now, Blackwell, you're picking certain books to stack the statistics. You right, you right. It is the biggest of the series. I had to read it at the dining room table. I got tired holding it. Have you read the young adult book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Sellznick (Caldecott Award book). Five hundred and thirty three pages. Great kids book. Let me stack the deck one more time. One of my favorite books (although I have been know to fall asleep reading it) is Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. Seven hundred fifty five pages NOT counting about a hundred pages of notes. These are heavy books, not intellectually, but physically. Read one of these in bed and my arms would quit in five minutes.

So years ago I wanted a screen placed over my bed where I could read digitized books. And I envisioned a camera watching my eyes and when they closed for sleep, it would mark where I had left off and turn the screen off. I thought my idea was cool. A librarian friend of mine thought I was crazy. It is also not surprising that I like paperbacks. Cheaper and lighter.

But in the last year or so, something has come on the market that has taken my fancy.....and imagination. The Kindle. It is 8 inches by 5 and a half inches and less then a half inch thick. it weighs about ten ounces. Good lord, Doris Goodwin's notes alone weight more then that. And this device hold 1500 books. No, I'm not kidding. Fifteen Hundred! It is from Amazon.

I can't wait until I get my hands on a Kindle. Except, that Apple is probably coming out with their version called for the moment, a Tablet. And I'm a Mac user.

But my point is that it is easier to hold one of these reading devices (in bed or elsewhere) then to hold the real object, the book. I watch kids going to school in the morning and their backpacks are full. Homework? Probably. Books? Youbetcher. And do you know how much it cost a school district to buy books? Lots and lots. I haven't check on school budgets lately but I'll bet it is one of the bigger items after teacher salaries, school buses, and building maintenance.

Here is another point. Checking out a book from a library includes driving to the facility, finding parking, finding change to feed the meter, then going in and finding the book. It is not my finest hour by any means. I want the Kindle, look up the book on the New York Times reading list and hit the button. I get it in sixty seconds for about ten dollars. If and when the Apple device shows up on the market I suspect the price of a book may go down a bit.

I once had a conversation with the noted author Mitchell Smith. He said he would prefer getting a penny or two every time someone read his book rather then being paid for it in a lump sum by the publisher. A more steady flow of income and less taxes to pay. I think he would applaud the Kindle and device like it.

However, I do envision a time when all you need to do is decide on what book you need or want. Perhaps even sections of books. Stanford University's the Digital Michelangelo Project is digitizing most books which are not copyrighted. Eventually they will have digitized most of the great books of the world for anyone to use. Just download it.

What really prompted me to follow down this primrose path is a book written several years ago by Bill Gates. Yes, the Gates of Microsoft fame. Quite frankly it was one of the best books that I read. But I didn't read the book! Inside the book was a CD and when you placed it in computer (Window's version) you got the book and then some. First the book was well written. Gates is very perceptive and he saw the future better then most of us. But he also had resources to back up his thinking of which when you read the CD version of his book, those resources were highlighted and if you clicked your mouse on them, they would take you into information that was not available in the hard bound version of the book. It was one of the most enjoyable, intellectual and wondrous moments in my reading career. And remember, I'm a dyslexic. It was easier to read on screen then to read the pages of his book.

I could go into costs of book production, book storage (read libraries), book damage, book life (how long does a book last for a library) and book availability (Is it on the shelf?). I've taught Library Science (part time at the School of Librarianship at the University of Washington) and at my own university. But I really think the golden age of libraries is starting to crumble. It may take two to three hundred years and then again it may happen sooner. I do not know but I think the digital age of books has arrived. I see children of all ages reading books from their book reader and enjoying it more. That's what we want don't we? I want a Kindle.

Do you read a lot? Do you like books? Be sure to thank a teacher for helping you learn to read. And for providing you with books, thank a librarian.

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