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Books on the brain: bookstores vs libraries, physical vs e- and audio

16 Sep

Bookstores vs libraries

On Monday, the first Borders bookstore closed in Ann Arbor, MI. CNN ran a lengthy, in-depth story on just how much the bookstore meant to the area, the customers, and the workers. The sentiments and memories in the story seemed on par with a library closing–childhood nostalgia, book recommendations, staff answering questions, people studying. Bookstores and libraries always seemed pitted against each other, to me, since they offered very different things. I go into a bookstore with a purpose, a certain item that I am looking to buy, but with a library I expect to browse the shelves with or without an item in mind, maybe find a good study spot, and know that at the reference desk my research and paper topic questions can be answered. Borders No. 1 seemed to have been it’s own kind of special; I went in a couple of years ago to blow birthday money (on what else? I am a librarian!) and it was fine but seemed like any other bookstore–perhaps the real charm and customer service predated me, as the article articulates. Of all the bookstores I’ve been in, they feel like a store in which I’m expected to buy something or linger for just a bit. At libraries, the study spaces are ample, and not just a comfy chair here or there but tables and desks and seclusion among the stacks, with power supplies near by. In a library, I want to make a home-away-from-home and stay to heart’s content, but more importantly, the library encourages this and now also tends to encourage group study as well.

Ever since the economic troubles, libraries have been under scrutiny even more, with many closing or being on the verge. LISNews has a great picture of University of Western Ontario librarians on strike. One has a sign that says “A library without librarians is just a bookstore” and another “Couldn’t do innovative, excellent research with a librarian.” While bookstores and libraries have similarities and differences, these two statements get at the heart of the matter: librarians offer knowledge and research expertise to help patrons find what they are looking for, or get them on the right path to find it. Sure, bookstore staff can give reading recommendations and probably tell you who wrote what and when, but it is librarians who are steeped in searching and resources, taking patrons from a shot-in-the-dark Google search to reliable databases and trustworthy sources. If anything, librarians are needed now more than ever in the Internet Age because information is so pervasive and freely available but needs to be sifted through to find what’s substantial and what’s correct. The buzz-phrase “information literacy” conveys this idea but I think it’s simpler and older than that–good and bad information and sources have been around probably since human communication began, maybe we are more overloaded now than ever but I don’t see this an a new concept and a new issue; patrons may think Google is a great place to start and has the answers they need but before the internet, I’m sure people consulted neighbors, friends, and family in the same way. Librarians make the difference, and always have.

Physical books vs e- and audio

In addition to thinking about bookstores and libraries this week, formats have also been inundating my thoughts, mainly because I’m currently using them all. “The death of the book” has been a trendy topic for a while now, but if we really think about things, reading seems to be making a comeback now more than ever. While The Guardian has a great article with facts and figures, for those of you interested, I wanted to address the issue from my personal experience as to the viability of each of these formats.

My prediction: books are not dead and will not die, ever.

Why not? First they are stable–once printed, always there. Paper is getting better, ink is made smarter, and both combine to make longer lasting books. Whereas technology is in flux and can be fickle…WordPress just auto-saved my draft! Case and point. What works today with technology might not 10 years, 5 years, even 2 years from now. That’s one of the problems with digital content and preserving it for the future.

Second, and here’s my grumble about e-books, physical books are, well, physical. I can page through them, easily hold my place and jump ahead to see where the chapter ends, or thumb back to find that scene I read a few pages ago. E-books, whether on a device or online, need time to load the next page. Sure there are electronic bookmarks and chapter jumps that make reading similar to a physical book but it takes more time and effort. Currently book three of the Hunger Games is on my iPad but remains at the same spot as it was a few months ago, and I’ve read a few physical books since then. I want to feel what I am reading, see my paper bookmark progress through the work, and take the book with me places. With e-books, they are on a device or my computer, it’s not just the text anymore like a physical book. These devices and my computer are a portal to so much more and why would I read on them if I can do other things? (As a side note, I’ve had an iPhone for a few years now and have had to train myself not to pick up my phone and check the moment an e-mail comes in. Technology is demanding my attention, inserting itself into my life and wanting me to do things NOW. My FaceBook app displays a little read number on the homescreen, showing me how many people have interacted with me since I last went into the app. Enough! I want a book to be a book, nothing more!)

Third, e-books just aren’t overtaking physical books. To begin with, a device is needed and they are still expensive. Though you might have to wait, a library provides materials of all sorts to everyone and all that’s needed is a library card. I think e-books have breathed new life into reading and books but they aren’t going to overtake them. Other fads have made reading cool again, too, like Twilight. Harry Potter did to some extent but Twilight boomed and made teen girls want to read. Vampire and zombies books (yes!) are popular and in demand. Sure, movies and tv shows are also jumping on this trend but it seems books have a renew respect. It’s like the Goosebump craze that my generation was a part of–if books get kids to read, why not let them have what they want. Neither Twilight (I did read the first) nor the Goosebump series (I read a few) are harmful, in my opinion.

Finally, people like to read. This is probably why the e-readers have taken off. Holding something and reading words is the essence of reading. Audio books have been around for quite a while, and even with iPods and mp3 players, they are no where near being a threat to physical books. There is a vast difference between reading something for yourself and being read to. For me, things stick better when I read because I set my own pace and can return to passages. An audio book just goes. The narrator controls everything, the voices, the pronunciation, the pacing, the emotions. As a reader, I find myself infringed upon with audio books. Let me explain. If you know me, have been keeping up with my blog, or read my About Me Page, you’ll know that my husband lives three hours away in Wooster, OH. I figured that for these trips audio books would make the drive easier and more enjoyable. It’s true, they are great. However, there are some snags. Distractions, and on the road they are frequent because I’m watching and interacting with other drivers, cause me to miss what’s going on sometimes. This means that I lose plot and character names, which when a person is only referred to by pronouns, takes some quick thinking to figure out who is being talked about and doing what. Also, the experience may be completely different from if I had read the book myself. One book I wanted to finish was Terry Goodkind’s last book in his Sword of Truth series. The narrator does a good job but there are some things I don’t like. First is pronunciation. Kahlan, a main character, become Kaylynn, rather than my preferred Kahlawn. And he acts instead of reads, so he shouts when a character shouts, and rushes text when it’s an action-packed or suspenseful moment. Plus, gory details stand out even more since I normally brush over them and I can better control the images in my mind from text than words. It’s like when Harry Potter was made into the movies–everything changes for readers because each reader had their own interpretation and readings that now were inundated with movies that made certain decisions that the reader once had control over.

In the end, I prefer my physical books best. My shelves are overflowing and I always want more. Plus, with a public library just down the road from me, I’ve found a new love for public libraries–I was always a school/academic libraries kid. If you love e-books or audio books more, here’s to you. I’m just glad that more people are into reading and books, for whatever reason.

Apparently this is a Gilmore Girl’s reference that I didn’t know about (a college guy friend wore the shirt often): Reading is sexy. And let’s keep it that way!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

One response to “Books on the brain: bookstores vs libraries, physical vs e- and audio

  1. Diana Doherty (@halahblue)

    September 16, 2011 at 3:22 am

    I had very similar thoughts about e-readers when they first came out. I don’t own a tablet or e-reader yet, but after almost 4 years of considering a Kindle, I’ve decided to get one soon. Primarily it’s because my life has changed. As a buyer of used books, I see the difference in being able to price digital books as new, the possibility of “self-destruct” dates for digital books purchased by libraries, and many times paying hardcover price to read the latest in a series you’ve been dying to get your hands on as all downsides. However, free classics available in PDF all over the place, the ability to use a library to “check out” digital copies of books you don’t need on your shelf (for me, that is the popular series types I like, “book candy,” like Sookie Stackhouse and Stephanie Plum series, also best sellers that have little or no resale value when you do want to get rid of them). Watching over the past few years, I do see a huge increase in preference toward e-readers and I think they’re beginning to find their niche in the reading world, but I believe you’re 100% correct in that physical books will never go away.
    The bottom line is: Technology changes, and currently at an exhausting rate. There are some standard formats for ebooks, but these will change over time, the ways you can read digital books will change, the cost of using them will change… but physical books will always be about the same. Though “digital is forever,” I honestly see paper as having a longer lifespan given the pace of change in technology. I can’t picture a library full of Kindle 1 packed full of PDFs of historical information, can you? I am intrigued by all of it and can’t wait see what the tech part of reading and communicating looks like when my nearly-2 son is my age (nearly-29 ;)

     
 
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