Notes from LMC Conversation Panel on “Books, Libraries, and the Digital Future” with Jay David Bolter, Lauren F. Klein, and Me

These are my speaking notes and discussion notes from today’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication Conversation following Robert Darnton’s talk yesterday on “Books, Libraries, and the Digital Future.” The panelists included Jay David Bolter, Lauren F. Klein (remotely), and me.

We met with an audience of about 25 members of the Georgia Tech community in the Stephen C. Hall Building, Room 102 from 11:00am-12:00pm.

  1. My research in the area
    1. My interest in eBooks comes from two tangents.
      1. First, it comes from my research interests in video game narratives in older software for the Commodore 64, Amiga, IBM-PC, Apple II, and Apple Macintosh platforms. Part of this research focuses on the way characters read within the game—particularly, computer based reading on terminals, tablets, virtual displays, etc. and how these ideas filter into reality/production and vice versa.
      2. Second, it comes from my dissertation research on something that William Gibson wrote about obsolescence and how our technologies—typewriters, Apple IIc, etc.—are fated to become junk littering the Finn’s office—in an “Afterword” to his Sprawl trilogy of novels: Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive [To read it, scroll to the bottom of this page]. The trouble with sourcing this text was the fact that it was not published in a physical book. Instead, I discovered from a Tweet that a mutual friend made with the writer that it come from an early eBook designed for the Apple Macintosh Portable by Voyager Company (what’s left of this company today creates the Criterion Collection of films).
        1. Gibson, William. “Afterword.” Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive: Expanded Books. Voyager Company. 1992. TXT File. Web. 25 March 2012.
        2. Gibson has done other things with ebook and experimental writing such as his exorbitantly priced Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, a floppy disk based e-poem that erases itself after “performing” one time.
      3. Since working with Gibson’s ebook, I’ve begun studying other ebooks—rediscovering ones that I read a long time ago and rethinking what constitutes an ebook—thinking about encyclopedia precursors to Wikipedia and other software such as the Star Trek: TNG Interactive Technical Manual, which does on the computer things that Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda could not do in their print Technical Manual.
      4. We can talk more about this later, but I support Aaron Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.” In my research, I have deployed my own tactics for reading and manipulating text that enable scholarship that I otherwise would be unable to do. Read more about fair use and transformation.
  2. My response to Darnton’s talk
    1. Aaron Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
    2. Peter Purgathofer’s Lego Mindstorms-MacBook Pro-Kindle-Cloud-based OCR assemblage for ripping text from Kindle ebooks
    3. DPLA  scans of Dickinson’s manuscripts (open) and copyrighted scholarly editions (closed).
    4. Issues of the Archive, Access, and Control.
  3. My suggestions for future research directions
    1. The relationship between haptic experience of pulp books and ebooks (e-reader, tablet, computer, Google Glass, etc.). How do we read, think about, and remember books differently based on the modalities of experiencing the book? We know that the brain constructs memories as simulations, so what are we gaining and losing through alterations to the methods of interacting with writing?
    2. A history of eBook readers—fascinating evolutionary lineage of ebook reading devices including Sony’s DD8 Data Discman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Discman).
    3. How are our students reading? More students this year than last asked me if they could purchase their books for ENGL1101 and Tech Comm as ebooks. How many students are turning to ebooks due to their cost or ease of access (pirating)? I don’t mind students purchasing ebooks over traditional books, but I have them think about the affordances of each.
    4. As researchers, how should we assert our fair use of texts despite the intentions of copyright holders? We no longer own books, but instead, we license content. [Purgathofer mentions this, but Cory Doctorow and others have commented on this at length: one source. Another more recent source.]
    5. How do we use ebooks and traditional books differently/similarly? For example, Topiary (aka Jake Davis), one of the former members of LulzSec, said earlier today on ask.fm that he prefers ebooks for learning and studying, but he prefers traditional books for enjoyment.
  4. Other responses, comments, and questions
    1. Jay Bolter: What about the future of books, the status of the book, and the status of libraries? What will happen to literature and the literary community? What is the cultural significances of print/digital to different communities (e.g., general community of readers vs. community represented by the New York Review of Books)?
    2. Lauren Klein: What are the roles of the archive and how do readers access information in the archive? We should think about how people use these digital archives (e.g., DPLA). In her work, she deploys computational linguistics: techniques to study sophisticated connections between documents. How is the information being used? Deploying visualization techniques to enable new ways of seeing, reading, and studying documents.
    3. Grantley Bailey: What about people who grow up only reading on screens/ebooks? What will their opinions be regarding this debate?
    4. Aaron Kashtan: Commented about graphic novels and comics in the digital age and about how these media remain entrenched in traditional, print publishing. Also, Aaron is interested in materiality and the reader’s experience.
    5. John Harkey: Commented on poetry’s dynamism and its not being wedded to books/chap books. Poetry is evolving and thriving through a variety of media including the Web, as electronic art, and experimental literature. We should think about literature as vehicles of genres and artifactual heterogeneity (essay, collage, posters, augmented reality, etc.).
    6. Lisa Yaszek: Pan-African science fiction is likely a model for the future. In the present, no single nation can support a thriving publishing industry for SF, but together, African SF is taking off with the diffusion of  new technologies of distribution and reading (ubiquity of cellular phones, wifi, cellular data, etc.).

Twinsburg Library Presentations on the Future of Books

This past week, the Twinsburg, Ohio Public Library held a special event that featured Donald “Mack” Hassler among a number of other guests to discuss the future of books. I didn’t go to the discussion, but I did hear about it through the grapevine by way of a conference-call email from Mack. One of the folks covering the event for the blogosphere was Tim Zaun, who wrote a very excellent synopsis of the gathering here, which includes an outline of the arguments that each guest speaker made on the future of books.

Reading Zaun’s reporting of the event reminded me of things that I had written in the past on the future of books here and here. In the past, I felt a tension between digital books and pulp books. Each have their own unique and promising properties. However, my thinking has changed somewhat after having played with an Apple iPad.

Actually, I fell in love with the iPad on the several occasions I’ve had to play with one. As much as I lament the loss of the physical book artifact, I cannot ignore the power that a computer affords a reader over a text. There’s so many cool things that you can do once the text is in an electronic form. The thing for the future is to make sure we insist on our rights as readers to the full text and power over the text besides reading. If we’re going to switch to a new mode of reading through computer technology, reading and the things we do with texts should change and transform into something new. I am afraid that ebooks will just be another fight as it has been with the RIAA and MPAA regarding the transformation of their industries. The FCC’s allowing media to control your TV, stereo, etc. with the output block bit is only one example of how big media wants to control what you see and how you may see it. I don’t want this to happen with books. At least for now, the debate seems to be taking place in the marketplace–there is competition and multiple players–all healthy things, but as we’ve seen with other media, a state of affairs that can change very quickly.

I do hope that I can own an iPad in the near future, but graduate life as it is, may prevent this from being an immediate possibility. Perhaps one will fall out of the sky, but I hope that it has some kind of descent assist. The psychic trauma of finding a destroyed iPad would be too much to bear.

Fireworks, Libraries, and the Ohio State Budget

Apparently public libraries are in trouble in the state of Ohio due to 1) a decline in the state’s general revenue fund, and 2) Governor Ted Strickland’s proposed 30% cut to statewide library funding.

According to the responses from this Yahoo! Answers question, fireworks displays on the scale of what I’ve been hearing about in the small towns surrounding Kent would run into tens of thousands of dollars in addition to costs for insurance, police, music, etc.  I don’t know how many fireworks displays there were in Ohio this July 3rd and 4th, but there were 37 in the Northeast corner of the state according to this news site.

I realize that this is not a maximized solution, but I believe that forgoing fireworks during a financial crisis so that those funds can be routed to local libraries, which provide year-round services to the public, would be a far better use of money than an ersatz orgasmic light spectacle.

Read more about the Ohio library dilemma on the Ohio Library Council website here.