Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The pocket circulating library

I think I get it. I know, I'm probably the last blogger of the biblioblogosphere to talk about e-readers, but I think I just got it.

Obviously, I love books as things. The physical artifact. Paper, ink, boards, cloth, leather, all of it. I have not really understood the fascination with e-books. Until now. They seem pretty unsatisfactory, by and large, but are improving. I'll also admit I have an ereader app or few on my iphone. I use Stanza for books from Project Gutenberg (30K+ titles for free!) and MegaReader for access to books from (Over a million, all free!).

I've used it to read in line at the Post Office, etc., and occasionally for reading in bed when I've not planned well and my TBR pile has shrunk too low to suit whatever reading mood I'm in. I do not use it for my primary reading source, nor do I ever expect it to.

Enter a fantastic book I read this past week: A Book For a Sixpence by David Kaser. Kaser examines the history of subscription libraries in the US. This was part of the Beta Phi Mu chapbook series, which is a must-have for students of the history of the book. This is not exhaustive, nor does he make any claims of it being so. There were many places in Kaser's study that prompted me to ask questions that no one has yet found answers to (I think). There is also a very good bibliography, index and a couple appendices listing known American circulating libraries before 1900. After a very cursory search through my limited records, I only found a few not listed in this 30 year old work, but I imagine records for such would be elusive at best, but searchability will improve as more institutional collections migrate online.

Reading this book made the light come on. E-readers are the new circulating libraries! Sure, you get to keep the "book" longer, but you don't own it. Your subscription fee is the price of the hardware reader, then you pay for access to the text, not for the book itself.

You never own the text on an e-reader. Except when they're free, then no one seems to really care. But you still don't own it.

In this context, e-readers make more sense. When I try to equate buying an "e-book" (an ugly chimera of a word!) with buying a book -- it doesn't come together in my mind. It doesn't add up. I "buy" an "e-book" and I have no or very limited lending rights, right of first sale is out the window, etc. However, when I consider using an e-reader as a 21st Century subscription library that merely grants access to works, it suddenly makes a lot more sense.

I know most of you have not struggled with this, nor have you sought any kind of justification for buying an e-reader or using one. I think however, I've finally found mine.

kindle, ipad, i-pad, nook, sony, comparison, history, amazon, subscription library, private library, rental library, membership library,


MrCachet said...

Not a bad way to look at it! I also thought while I have your attention - I've been selected as the featured artist for the Western Heritage Show in Great Falls, March 16th through the 20th, during Western Art Week. Of course, old paper will be the theme, and I'm working with the Ad & Promo chair to come up with some good ink.

Exile Bibliophile said...

Fantastic! Congratulations!

keeline said...

We love our books and have about 8,000 of them here (6,500 in However, I also find value in gathering electronic copies of books that I am unlikely to find or would not care to spend the sum required to buy it nor devote the space to it.

As I research the life and career of Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930) I have been working to assemble a virtual collection of his personal writings. Most of these are PDFs with page scans that I have either found online or have created myself by scanning or photographing pages. This includes not only his 160 books but many of the periodical stories which are especially scarce and fragile. An electronic copy is a better way to read these while taking notes than the physical item.

I would like to devise a better cradle system for photographing books. I can't quite consider the $5,000+ devices from Atiz and the full DIY scanner seems a bit ambitious just now plus I'd need a Windows computer and two compatible Cannon DSLR cameras to make these work. Having some method for photographing pages would make it possible to scan more books for my enjoyment, research, and sharing.

I have an iPhone but not any of the book readers. The iPhone's built-in PDF capabilities cannot handle the typical Google Books or PDF with scanned page images. There are PDF programs that can handle these larger files but they are not ideal. I don't know the state of PDF reading on the Nook, Kindle, or iPad.

The notion of a subscription rental library does take a bit of the sting away from paying for the same content multiple times but it is still not ideal. I often wish that when I buy the dead tree edition that an electronic copy would be available to me for a nominal upgrade price or free. Some computer books do this (e.g. O'Reilly) and sometimes it is nice to have a reference or fiction book to consult while waiting in line at the post office or other places.


Sam Sattler said...

I think that's an excellent rationalization, especially if it works for you> I do most of my e-book reading on an iPad, having loaded the software on it for the kindle, the nook, iBooks, and several third-party vendors. They all work well, but most of the books I download are either free ones or review copies that are linked from publisher websites.

I like the idea of using hardware like the iPad that has multiple purposes rather than being tied to a single-purpose device. (I have a Sony Reader that I would love to sell, in fact, for that very reason).