TEC's Take on e-Book News

by Nadine Bachan

Published at 2010-06-03

We like to keep up to date on all the innovations and debates constantly swirling around our community. E-Books and e-Book technologies have been at the forefront of literary news lately, and we have our own two cents to add.

The bookless library: A great idea, or one big digital headache?

Stanford University has announced a massive re-visioning of the school’s Physics and Engineering libraries — they are going paperless. The faculty has started emptying the shelves to make way for what they call “the world’s first bookless library.” The new system will include a fully electronic reference desk, and give students access to four Kindle 2 e-Readers.

Books from the science disciplines were the best choice for this project. There are no complicated mathematical formulas to render, and heated debates about which editions of our favourite literary classics to be digitized will be avoided … for now.

However, not everyone is thrilled about Stanford’s plans. What will this mean for the future of libraries? Will the public no longer be able to casually peruse  books? Will the pleasure of finger-browsing for a new discovery among well-worn spines be lost? The very essence of a communal love for reading can be found in the traditional lending library. That’s not something most readers want tampered with.

And what were the designers thinking? Only FOUR e-Readers will be available for hundreds of students? Some are likely already irritated just thinking about the line-ups. Will students need to include pricey Kindles, Kobos, and iPads as part of their campus essentials? Is yet another digital doodad destined to become a social status symbol, separating the haves from the have-nots?  Well, every prototype has its bugs. We will be interested to see how this pans out.

Reporting from “Bookstore of the Future”

While Stanford toys around with one much-loved venue for literature, The Book and Periodical Council (BPC) and the Book Publishers’ Professional Association (BPPA) gathered on May 18 to discuss the possible changes to another: the bookstore.

“Bookstore of the Future” attendees (including Beth, our Senior Editor) were asked to consider how digital and print-on-demand books will change the look and atmosphere of the bookstore as we know it.

Dan Aronchick, President of Think Inc., believes the supermarket-styled bookstore chain will become a thing of the past, while community-based bookstores will regain their popularity. And, of course, there will be a huge market for e-Books. From online kiosks to print-on-demand stations, the e-Book will become more accessible and attractive to consumers.

To demonstrate a new possibility for bookstores, Mark Lefebvre from Titles Bookstore presented a textbook that had been printed by an EBM, an Espresso Book Machine. It seems students are lining up for this version, given that it costs half the price of a “traditional” textbook.

The overall consensus of the panel: Change will happen, and it’s better to be a part of it than to deny it.

However, many booklovers are sceptical that technological changes to their favourite bookstores will be a turn for the better. Why mess with a good thing? Advocates for the e-Book have to do better if they want to convince the masses.

That’s more than enough food for thought this week. Comment and let us know what you think.