Possibilities of a Virtual Library: The Future for eBooks

As an obvious bibliophile, I find that books, of the paper variety, have more than just a little charm to them. Stephen King has referred to books as furniture, in that they have a tangible, physical presence that electronic downloads haven’t quite mustered yet. I will go a step further saying there is something about the aphrodisiacal quality of the printed page, the way it smells and the way feels under one’s fingertips. I fondly remember receiving Tolkien’s The Hobbit as a stocking stuffer one Christmas morning; to this day, when I sniff the open spine of a book, I can recall this moment. Works for every book, too (excepting my college textbooks, which conjure images of late night partying and taking exams. Not in this order).

So, one would think I would only have a measure of disdain for the electronic book format… but I may surprise you. Clearly, I have an affinity for technology, or I would not have built this web site or the PDF content it promotes, for fun and profit.

I also cannot deny the convenience of having an entire library, mine for instance, in the palm of my hand should I choose to go the way of the Kindle. My comic-book collection, which is larger than most, serves as a good example of this feature. We all know Google’s efforts, and Amazon’s record, for scanning and converting as many books as they can get their hands on for the reading community. This has issues for me, but for the most part I think it is a wise approach. As someone once said, it will happen eventually so why not now?

The difference between these two giants is that Google wants to make available the largest catalogue of public domain works under their name. From all appearances, this would be a sensible move, much like how a public library readies such materials for local dissemination. The difference is, the strategy is marketed for Google citizens, so to speak, representing a governing body driven by profit and loss. The public library has no such predilications, at least on the surface. Still another issue I have is that I believe some books have a maturation point. Certain works are designed to go the way of the dodo; many documents have a natural shelf life; once they reach out of print status, they become ill-attainable (and for good reason, whether it be due to content, revision, politics, accuracy or pure vintage acquisition, i.e. collectibles). I know a number of authors who feel this way.

So the conveniences are lavish. What concerns me is this: once the “wow” factor subsides, and the new ebook smell wears off, I’ll be left with yet another electronic toy… possibly hankering for the feel of paper once again when the luster of holding the “magic tablet” has expired.

The temptation is great, and the endorsements are so strong for this technology, so I am going to give it a whirl. I plan to find out whether it replaces books outright; I imagine this will depend on the sensibilities of the reader. In my case, I’m simply too vain to box up all my paperbacks and leather bounds for the sake of saving shelf space.