after a holiday visit to ann arbor: the u of m library & google 01.01.2005, 5:21 PM
posted by kim white
I have fond memories of studying in the University of Michigan libraries, (as a high school student, and later as a U of M undergraduate). The physical space of the library, the seemingly endless stacks of books, which allowed deep exploration of even the most obscure topics, and gave me a sense of how vast, (and how limited) the universe of human thought really is. How is this going to be translated in the virtual space of Google's digital library?
Isn't it the job of the University library to provide a young scholar with opportunities to "see" the scope of human knowledge? While at the same time, offering a kind of temple space for the engagement of these books. Without the marble staircases, the chandeliers, the stone pilasters, the big oak tables, the reference room, the stained glass windows, the hushed silence, how will we get the message that books are important, and that understanding them requires a particular "space." The physical space of the library serves as a metaphor and a reminder of the serious mental space that needs to be carved out for productive study. What will we lose when that space becomes "virtual?" Are we "saving" space by putting everything in the computer? Or are we losing it?
Posted by kim white on January 1, 2005 5:21 PM
tags: Libraries, Search and the Web
Lisa Spangenberg on January 1, 2005 6:54 PM:
I take your point about the "memory theater" of the library, but at the same time, it is not, yet an either-or. The books are being scanned in in part because so many of the books published in the last fifteen years are, literally, disolving as the acid in the pages decays and they become self-consuming artifacts.
The real concern I have, at the moment, regarding digital libraries, is the dreadful position libraries are being put into regarding subscribing to journals; most libraries can't afford both a codex/printed version and a digital subscription, and are opting for the digital version. That means unless they renew, they have no access to back issues, and even if they do renew, the libraries are entirely dependent on the decisions of the digital provider. I'm a big fan of redundant information; that's why we have 64+ manuscripts of Chaucer, and only one badly damaged and incomplete copy of Beowulf. Let's duplicate and share the data, as widely as possible.
Gary Frost on January 2, 2005 2:12 PM:
The proposed Google library will provide the equivalent of a browser enabled inter-library loan service. The established interlibrary loan services have used scanning and digital delivery for many years. Inter-library loan will also send the paper book to the reader.
The inter-library loan service model obviously depends on the print collections and their continuing circulation. In my view the Google library model extends this dependence on the print collections. It extends the dependence by sourcing print, as contrasted with say the Yahoo search for web-based video or other access to born digital resources. But, almost paradoxically, the Google library also confirms the pre-eminence of print by demonstrating the expanding meaning inherent in books.
After all, screen based reading offers an additional reading mode for print books that multiplies their access, increases their relevance and projects them into interdisciplinary and creative tangents of research. And, as a bonus, digital preservation is not as immense an issue when digital presentations are backed-up by persistent print.
kim white on January 2, 2005 11:14 PM:
Points well taken, the Google library system will provide us with valuable services: digital "back-ups" for decaying print books and greater access to existing books. Gary points out that digital preservation is not an issue when digital presentations are backed up by print, but happens when they are not? Lisa's concern about digital journals is important. It seems to me that librarians should be responsible for deciding which books and journals to archieve. If that is left up to the journals or to the authors themselves we could lose a lot of valuable artifacts. We are already seeing journals turning to digital versions. What happens when the next generation of authors begins to publish digital versions of their books? What if these books are exclusively digital with no printed "original." How will this potential sea-change alter the library system? As readers become accustomed to reading on the screen, will they begin to prefer it, thus creating a demand for books that are born digital with no printed counterpart?
Lisa Spangenberg on January 3, 2005 1:03 AM:
"As readers become accustomed to reading on the screen, will they begin to prefer it, thus creating a demand for books that are born digital with no printed counterpart?"
What I *hope* will happen is that the "small run" kinds of books, the scholarly monographs and dissertations with print runs under 5000 will be distributed in a digital format that supports POD. That gives us the best of both worlds. Most of these kinds of publications have a limited audience, and an excessively high retail price. My central concern with digital books, other than aesthetics, is that I want the data to be liquid; that is, I want them to be designed so that as technology changes, the data can be poured into a new container.
I should probably explain that I think of books as data containers in any case, or as I sometime tell people, tupperware for text. The container has changed, from clay to stone to papyrus to vellum to beech leaves (hence Modern English "book," and Latin liber/liberi, both words for the materials used to store text) to paper to silica and plastic, but we have, thus far, been able to pour our data, text and images, from one to the other.
It's the pourability I worry about losing because of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and changes in standards and hardware. That's part of my desire to see wide distribution of data, duplication of data, and open standards with intelligent DRM.
Increasingly publishers and distributors want to make the data "rigid," no longer portable and pourable, much like the monastic chained libraries of the past, with books literally chained to the shelves where they were stored, making them difficult both to steal and to use.
dave munger on January 3, 2005 1:48 PM:
I think libraries as physical spaces have been deteriorating for a number of years. Sure, your Columbias, your University of Chicagos still have their grand reading rooms, but take for example my local regional school, UNC - Charlotte. Its library is nothing more than a cubicle farm of computers; its resources are used as often for AIM as for searching its online catalog. The stacks themselves are still there, but doing "real" research often doesn't require a trip to the library, since many journals are available online, (as long as you have a valid school ID) with or without Google Print.
"Books" themselves are often out of date by the time they are printed, and with libraries devoting more and more of their budgets to computers instead of books, libraries are acquiring fewer and fewer of them anyways.
Computers are the new shrines of knowledge, but unlike libraries, with their police force of librarians enforcing silent reverence, they can also decline into personal entertainment spaces.
With the rise of wireless internet, perhaps other university spaces will be commandeered by students seeking a sacred space for disseminating knowledge. Or perhaps the notion of a space that reveres words will go the way of the epic poem or the classically sung Greek drama, something no longer experienced the way it once was, but perhaps fondly grasped at by a few crusty academics.
Lisa Spangenberg on January 3, 2005 3:12 PM:
I too love the physicality of books (and manuscripts, and in the last few years, even cuneiform tablets) and libraries, but I hope Dan Munger's experience at UNC Charlotte will be the atypical one. I'm a graduate student at UCLA which, for all its faults, has a great library system. The undergraduate library was recently (post 1994 quake) gutted and rebuilt from the inside. It has wireless access, ethernet ports, study carals, and both walk in computer labs and and computer class rooms, as well as public access terminals.
It also has open stacks, and reading rooms with tables, reading lights, AC outlets and ethernet ports, as well as arm chairs, couches, and window seats. It's gorgeous, and one of the favorite places on campus for everyone to read and study. I don't see libraries going away; there are more codex books being published now than there were in 1990, or in 2000. Moreover, people read the codex page differently than they do the digital, and until we have standard, reliable ways of using meta data for citation, the printed page will retain its authority.
In the last ten years, when I've taught Beowulf, or Austen, or Shakespeare, I've used paperback editions. They're good editions, scholarly, easy to hold and read, and affordable to students. But after three years, the pages are yellow and brittle, the glue on the spine has dried up, and I have to get a new copy. That means my annotations are gone with the old pages. The last two times I taught, I used digital editions that I made, using public domain and licensed text. I think the academic edition market, the Penguin Classics and Oxford Texts and Arden lines are perfect for digital replacement, thereby freeing up space for carefully written, printed and bound copies of more permanent books to be on the library shelves.
Gary Frost on January 3, 2005 9:21 PM:
For a useful perspective on the future of libraries look at the interaction of print and on-line resources without comparing them. They do not compare, but they do interact.
The on-line catalog is now over 30 years old. Its interaction with the print collections is now so routine that we overlook it. But the interaction is nothing less than a robotic access to physical stacks everywhere. Or look at photocopying which is the machine reading that revolutionized the reach of the library's single print copy. Next we will provide whole text, or "look into the text" of copyright books. This extended screen based access will only increase new book sales and retrospective print book usage.
But why is it useless to compare print books and on-line resources? It is useless because they provide two different reading modes. No one compares a hand written letter with a telephone or an alphabetic message with a call. But, the various reading modes do interact and that interaction prefigures the future of the book and the future of screen based reading. So far it has been a highly generative interaction and a very crippled comparison.
As regards the future of monographs, my view is that the composite screen based reading mode provides the manuscript phase of print works. The impact of digital technology and digital delivery on scholarship (which was word processing) has already occurred. The search and discovery features of digital access provide no more research product, and no more potent ideas than the deliberate, skilled use of print. And print alone provides the haptic and referential devises need for comprehension by bionic readers.
Lisa Spangenberg on January 3, 2005 11:40 PM:
Gary Frost writes:
"The impact of digital technology and digital delivery on scholarship (which was word processing) has already occurred. The search and discovery features of digital access provide no more research product, and no more potent ideas than the deliberate, skilled use of print."
There I disagree with you. The printed version of the OED (or the Middle English Dictionary) is fabulous, and I own it. But I can't, realistically, speaking find all the references to vocabulary from a particular text or source using the printed version. But with the digital version, I can. There's a lot of scholarly research in linguistics and philology because of the existence of digital, searchable dictionaries and corpora that wouldn't be practical without them. It's much, much easier to create a concordance or to do things like compare infixes or suffixes because of digital text and tools like GREP. We're seeing results for this kind of research much sooner than we used to because it can be done so much faster than when we had to use shoe boxes of 3 x 5 cards.
Then of course, though it isn't "search and discovery," the practical uses of digital imaging in codicology and paleography are enormous.
dave munger on January 4, 2005 2:18 PM:
Gary Frost writes:
"And print alone provides the haptic and referential devises need for comprehension by bionic readers."
But what if digital devices could also offer these features? E-paper is now becoming a reality, and the future of e-books will probably allow not only for the flexibility of digital images, but real, turnable pages, to give readers those haptic cues once unique to books. The difference: no need for vast stacks to store the data; the "book" can change to accommodate any text.
I've speculated on this a bit more over on my blog at
Gary Frost on January 4, 2005 8:49 PM:
Re: simulated page turning and bionic reading:
At first it is odd that concepts should be conveyed by physical objects. Electronic transmission better mimics the neural connectivity of the mind, but the physical book better engages the hands to prompt the mind. We always recall read precepts in their physical location on the page of a specific book. Other fingerings of page turning and manipulations of book structure work as prompts to our progression through content.
In contrast to the manual punctuation of the page and the physical clock of content of the codex, the on-line page is manipulated with impaired haptic feedback. The "previous/next" click, the cursor slider and scroll tabs utilize grip and finger motion directed to the mouse and keyboard, but not to the substrate of the text. At least two other layers of interruption intervene. There is the electrified, rather than manual, instigation and an indirect interfacing via the navigational software. With a book, the reader is the interface.
And, come to think of it, what would be the point of simulating a book when a perfect simulation would be indistinguishable? And what is the point of attempting to enhanced the book with digital connectivity when much better page arrays and navigational controls are already available in the computer based on-line reading mode?
dave munger on January 5, 2005 6:29 AM:
Gary Frost asks:
"And, come to think of it, what would be the point of simulating a book when a perfect simulation would be indistinguishable?"
Because the digital "book" would be able to contain the text of thousands of traditional books, and offer additional features such as enhanced search, copying and pasting, and even changing the text itself.
"And what is the point of attempting to enhanced the book with digital connectivity when much better page arrays and navigational controls are already available in the computer based on-line reading mode?"
There wouldn't be any point unless the computerized controls were added to the standard book "interface" -- turning pages, flipping through chunks of text, the table of contents, the index, etc.
The point is that some aspects of the physical book are superior to the traditional computer interface: pages give readers a better sense of "where they are" in the text, allow readers to move more precisely through large chunks of text than a scroll bar can, and effectively increase the size of the "monitor" when we flip rapidly back and forth between pages. Trying to accomplish the same effect with a computer interface is disorienting. Finally, the reflective "display" of a book is much more legible than the LCD or CRT display.
That said, searching and text manipulation are much more easily accomplished on the computer, so combining the best features of physical texts and e-texts only makes sense.
Gary Frost on January 5, 2005 9:12 PM:
"That said, searching and text manipulation are much more easily accomplished on the computer, so combining the best features of physical texts and e-texts only makes sense."
With that logic it would be worthwhile to synthesize all features of communication into a single useful devise. If that is the objective then the cell phone is a much better exemplar than the book.
One reason that we will never have screen based monographs, or monographic e books, is that it would not synthesize the attributes of book and computer, but cripple each instead. The on-line display would be crippled with the running text and paratext (substructure of the traditional book including pagination, index, contents, etc.) while the content of the book would be crippled by the tangential live links, interspersed video, and pull down navigation...(for example).
They (the on-line display and the paper book) provide two distinctly different reading modes, each of authentic and limitless usefulness. While the production, distribution and delivery of paper books is now fully digitized, there is no reason, and little incentive, to toy with its ergonomic of comprehension that is literally millions of years old including the two millennia of proven performance of the codex.
Incidentally, the electronic reading mode is now over a century old itself. Digital encoding, instantaneous communication, photographic visualization and many other attributes of on-line reading were developed in the 19th century in a context in which they were authentic paradigm shifts. Our only contribution has been the technologies that enable the presentation of all three reading modes (verbal/visual, written, print) on a single screen
Lisa Spangenberg on January 5, 2005 11:11 PM:
Gary Frost wrote:
"One reason that we will never have screen based monographs, or monographic e books, is that it would not synthesize the attributes of book and computer, but cripple each instead. The on-line display would be crippled with the running text and paratext (substructure of the traditional book including pagination, index, contents, etc.) while the content of the book would be crippled by the tangential live links, interspersed video, and pull down navigation...(for example)."
I disagree strongly with this. We already have monographs that are "hybrid" designs. True, it's easier with certain kinds of texts, like linguistic monographs that already by convention have numbered sections and sub-sections, both of which are already used in conventional citations. Such formats are particularly suited for digital publication. But a decent GUI solves many of the other objection Gary raises. Look at the books made with TK3, or even the Palm/Peanut Press editor. Navigation is "hidden" in the design elements of the digital book itself. Links can be turned off, so they don't "clutter" the page. Look back at the dark ages of e-books, and Voyager's Expanded Books, when Bob Stein, and Colin Holgate, and other members of the Voyager tribe thought about, and solved, many of these issues. One of the virtues of the digital realm is its liquidity; a good GUI, and a carefully thought out structure, allows readers to choose how, and what, we read.
I should probably expose my biases here. I am a bibliophile, and a classically trained medievalist with a background in codicology, paleography, and textual analysis. But I've worked in the e-book industry since 1989, including work for Voyager and Night Kitchen.
I really do think we can have the best of both worlds, and I aim to do my part to see it happen.
Gary Frost on January 6, 2005 7:49 PM:
Lisa, Thanks for your useful comments; we need more background like yours to sustain this thread.
It is the history of ebooks that assures me of the pre-eminence of print. From my perspective the Eastgate StorySpace application demonstrated the potential attributes of screen based writing and reading, not the attempts to migrate the print model and the hand held reading devise to hypertextuality. And the pioneering Voyager publications were sequestered in the pre-web context, an off-line domain where paper books are very efficient.
In any event, I hope I am not considered a stick-in-the-mud. I do admire the skills and pleasures and efficacies of on-line reading. It is just that I don't consider every mutation viable and I like to acknowledge that many achievements in human communication occurred before us, and many more will follow in the future. For me the changing book is not changing, but changing its relations with continually emerging reading skills and reading behaviors.
Gary Frost on January 9, 2005 11:16 AM:
***Summary of the discussion
We began with the library and its role. The library appears to be the stage for the interplay of print and on-line resources and the portrayal of the future. This is an important observation since the publishing industry is usually considered the prognosticator.
The capacity of search engines, link connectivity and electronic display are suggested as a distinct advantage of computer based vs. paper based resources. The key word here is "distinct". The screen based reading mode is distinctly different from the print reading mode, but that does not necessarily suggest the demise of print. Print tends to distil a topic, on-line searching tends to dilute it.
We touched on the persistence or permanence factor. Any resource that takes on the "knowledge of mankind" should perform as well as have books.
We glanced an important topic for the future of the book. Namely that the book may not be the best candidate for a universal hand held reading devise. The real exemplar may be the cell phone.
One discussion theme continued throughout the exchange. Lisa, Dave and Kim projected assurance that the paper book needs revamping and possibly superceding. Gary was assured that it did not need such modernization. Gary was particularly convinced that a composite booke/ebook devise would combine the disattributes of both.
There was projection that readers will "become accustomed to reading on the screen and that development will assure the future of the electronic book. Again Gary disagreed. Readers have become accustomed to screen based reading already as the web demonstrates, but ebooks are still unpopular.
The discussion touched on attributes of the physicality of paper books and its haptic features that enable comprehension of content.
Finally the discussion brought out the history of the ebook.