Will all paper documentation eventually succumb to the digital age?   After all, digital is more convenient, easier to preserve and store than paper.    Books are perhaps one of the most popular and notable types of paper documentation that could become extinct in just a matter of years.    Amazons’ Kindle e-reader can hold over 1000 books, is easy to read and the device is affordable.    Novels, white papers, text books and historical documents are just a few of the types of books that can be read on an e-reader.

Are the days where students lug around a knapsack or brief case full of heavy text books to class gone?  There is no question that the convenience and affordability of digital text will continue to replace paper, but there are some niches of resistance to books going out of style.    Also the death of paper books, which seemed inevitable just a couple of years ago may not as come as soon as everyone thought, See this article in NyTimes.com.

There are a few reasons that paper books may continue to “lurk” in the foreseeable future.

  • People seem to enjoy the “reading experience” with a physical book rather than an e-book. Holding the book, turning the pages, being able to physically mark a book with a pencil or highlighter is part of the experience.    Reading a Kindle provides the content, but reading a physical book adds in the element of experience.   Perhaps this experience is only important to those who did not grow up in the digital age, but there is evidence that shows that a lot of people are staying with paper.
  • Some people have shelves of books in there house filled with books that they have read or have collected.  Each book displayed like a “badge of honor” on the shelf.   Books are keepsakes and cultural artifacts.
  • “Hey I just finished this great book”…  “Oh can I borrow it?”… “Sorry, it’s on my Kindle”.     My wife loves to read romance novels as does my sister.  When we get together, they swap books. You can’t do that with a Kindle.
  • Right now at least, e-books do cost money or you need to subscribe to monthly service.  The library is still free.
  • Historical Preservation. The declaration of independence can be downloaded to any computer by anyone.  But the original document is on display, encased in glass and is treasured by historians.   For many books, the historical value is not just the content; it includes the type of paper, the decorations on the backing, the type set and layout that reflect the values and technology of the period that it was written.    This is similar to why people will stand in line to view the original Picasso painting rather than purchase a copy of it.
  • As soon as something is digitized it can be easily changed.   It can automatically be translated or have the language modernized.   These are good things to do, but not at the expense of losing the original.   The internet is still the Wild West in that content can be illegally duplicated and distributed, it can be hacked.    It is much easier for an oppressive government to control internet access and content than to try to remove or ban books.

The digitizing of books will continue and is a great benefit to society.   However the preservation o f the original book, or the availability of books in paper format is still extremely important.

The question is; “are we willing to do both?”  Should we digitize while keeping the aesthetic and historical significance of paper books.  The answer is yes, so rather than chop off book bindings and stick the pages into a high speed scanner, or damaging delicate books in typical scanners, we need to find ways to economically digitize books, while still preserving the originals.

Fortunately there are ways to digitized books, even very old, crumbly books without damaging them.  There are scanning systems that allow fairly high speed and accurate digitization that do not bend, crease pages or damage a book binding.   Microfacs does book scanning of large and delicate books.  You can see video of a bound book scanner here.

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