Books and digitization
Where is the book’s place in today’s hybrid information production? In a time when the book as a medium has repeatedly been declared dead my position as a book lover used to be a defensive one. I sought valuable and preferably measurable arguments that could explain the so called ‘charm’, ‘magic’ and ‘comfort’ of the traditional codex book, as mentioned by many bibliophiles and book collectors. Throughout history the rhetorical concept of complete replacement often emerged when new technologies induced prophetic debates about the survival of old technologies and media. However, many theorists now agree that we are looking at a future where codex books and e-books will coexist and that the idea of the new replacing the old has to be dismissed as too simplistic.
The benefits of digitization
Studying the subject more closely, it becomes clear that there may be more at stake than ‘just’ an old medium declared obsolete. Perhaps the slow but steady advance of e-readers is not the primary shift, however worried book designers and print lovers may feel about this development. Paradoxically, one could even state that in this age of information, e-books may be a powerful tool for the literary and publishing world with which they can promote reading amongst a wide and even global public. The benefits of digital access and distribution are particularly obvious within the academic context. However, where huge digitization projects are executed by big profit-driven companies like Google, speed appears to be more important than bibliographical accuracy, copyright protection or a solid long-term strategy of digital preservation.
So, what exactly gets lost when we digitize books? Those, who love the codex book for its paper, ink, typography and design (i.e. it’s materialized container), have to face the possibility that what’s really at stake is its content. We may be defending the book with all the wrong arguments.
Effects on reading
Steven Fischer states that the electronic revolution is first and foremost a reading revolution. So how is digitization altering society’s view of the book and the art of reading? How do the characteristics of networked media, namely an absence of a sense of the past and emphasis on velocity and brevity rather than on reflection and complexity, affect our reading of digitalized and printed matter? Are we looking at a profound change of our engagement with text, knowledge and history? And, if digitization transforms our relationship to books, how does it change in consequence […] our relationship to ourselves?
Possible outcome of research
I would like to explore strategies to promote the outcomes of my theoretical work artistically. I am interested in photographic representations of books, but would also like to research historical reproduction and preservation techniques and compare them to the current digitization projects and their dissemination. Furthermore, I think that today’s shifts in book production and the digitization of books ask for new social and cultural strategies to keep book making and reading alive.
– Kleerebezem, Jouke (2004). Ubibook. Text of a paper for the Charles Nypels Lecture series ‘The Tomorrow Book’, December 2004 at the Jan van Eyck Academie Maastricht.
– Fischer, Steven R. (2003). A History of Reading. London: Reaktion Books
– Manguel, Alberto (2006). The Library at Night. New Haven, London: Yale University Press
– Deegan, Marilyn, and Kathryn Sutherland, (2009). Transferred Illusions: Digital Technology and the Forms of Print. Farnham: Ashgate