Over and over again we hear that the printed book is disappearing; some of the more inflammatory appeals even refer to ‘the death of the book’. Who killed the book? Computers, tablets, e-readers, and other technological tools have become the primary suspects. Indirectly, Amazon and other online retailers have been charged with accessory to murder. It was reported that the cyber world was a hostile environment for the printed book.
It is probably extreme to announce the death of the book. According to some reports, e-book sales have surpassed printed book sales in at least some areas of the market — but the printed book continues to be an important object in the way we communicate, transfer, and safeguard knowledge. The new fields of study that have been developed such as book history, material culture, and so on, have now expanded the book as both object and concept, and they have allowed us to revitalize the book under fresh perspectives.
This Friday lunchtime, the Centre for the History of the Book welcomed Dr Simon Rowberry, lecturer in Digital Media & Publishing at the University of Stirling, to give a lecture entitled ‘A Historiography of the Ebook’. As a printed book enthusiast, I came to this CHB seminar as someone who is fairly sceptical about e-readers. I’ve never read a book on a Kindle, never read a newspaper on my smartphone, and definitely never dared touch an iPad (too scared I’d break it). As a result, I didn’t know what to expect from such an intriguing lecture title; the relatively new term ‘ebook’ seems almost out of place next to the grandiose, scholarly pursuit of ‘historiography’. However, over the course of the lecture Dr Rowberry gave us an absorbing insight into the historical origins, development, and controversies surrounding ebooks and e-readers and their implications upon contemporary reading practices.
‘Everything is changing, but nothing is new: some current challenges facing libraries and books’: a public lecture by Dr. John Scally on 1st October, 2015
To paraphrase the intriguing title of this lecture: libraries have seen it all before.
Dr. John Scally, director of the NLS, used a potted history to effectively illustrate that, since the great library of Alexandria to the present day, libraries have always faced technological challenges. By presenting a survival plan for the 21st century, that can be adopted by any library, it is Dr. Scally’s aim to ensure the NLS stays true to its fundamental principle as a protector of its 20 million books and other media, yet remains relevant to library users today and in the future. The main ways of achieving this are:
Professor Deirdre Heddon (University of Glasgow) and Dr Misha Myers (Falmouth University) shared tales from their ongoing art project The Walking Library, as part of Innovative Learning Week 2015.
Heddon and Myers introduced the audience to the Walking Library project by referencing examples of literary figures who took books as companions on walks in the past: John Hucks and the poems of Thomas Churchyard; Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a book of German poetry; John Keats and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Walking Library thus follows in a long literary tradition of the side-by-side practices of reading and walking. These practices beg the question: what does it mean to take a book on a walk? What do literary companions contribute to a journey? And how might location and mobility affect both the act of reading and one’s hermeneutics of reading?
Professor John Thompson is honest about the fact that he is not a historian. Instead, he is a sociologist — he studies “the history of the present, and where we’re going.” His detailed yet succinct lecture, The Transformation of Contemporary Trade Publishing, framed what would perhaps seem like a static historical topic in a way that illuminated the dynamic, social nature of the state of publishing today. Indeed, not only did he shed light on the complex “cave system of the publishing industry,” as Dr Tom Mole mentioned in his introduction, he made compelling arguments about why that cave system is structured the way it is, how parts of it seem to be disintegrating, and why the future of the book is up for grabs.