On the Digitization of Books

On the Digitization of Books

Is Kindle Burning the Book?

The book has reached a period in history where its bifurcation has begun. The staying power of the physical book is in severe trouble, primarily due to the advancement of technology that has led to the advent of the eBook. While the eBook has allowed an ease of use to the modern day young adults, of which 98% use the internet, 62% of these young adults believe that more pertinent and honest information can only be found in physical books. Thus is has become necessary to define why the modern era is wrong in fostering the urge to give up physical books for our inevitable all digital future, as society doubles-down on convenience.

Share & Share Alike

Our first issue becomes the indisputable benefits of the unhindered ability to share knowledge physically. With an eBook, one is forever at the mercy of their eReader’s ability to project their purchase to them and them alone. In that, someone would be hard pressed to find an individual who would part with their eReader in order to lend out a single book they wished to share. The truth of the matter is that as long as licenses are tied to eBooks, regardless of some providers experimentations with sharing, lending digitally just isn’t an ideal option. This issue is negligible and time tested with physical books.

For as long as the physical book has existed, people have been lending these materials. Books as a medium have stood strong against the annals of time, primarily due to their creation being a direct semblance of humanity’s desire to share knowledge. In fact, the very essence of the creation of the library as an institution is, and will continue to be, paramount in the ability to easily lend patrons books. Much the same can be said for locally owned bookstores. With the physical lending of books, intimacy is garnered not only with the individual making a recommendation, but also the book shared.

Sharing represents a communal aspect to books in which people not only lend their purchase, but their opinion, insight, and rationale. As deputy director of the Rocky River Public Library, Nancy S. Levin put it plainly, “Reading is definitely local”, going on to say, “What you read is still a reflection of what might be cultivated in your community.” One cannot get the same level of personalization from a database’s recommendations based simply on their previous book purchases. In that. we solidify our ability to share physically as the preferred, and arguably better way to share information.

Even a Full Battery Doesn’t Fix the Issue

Kindles/eReaders and eBooks share a few common hindrances related to software and hardware, negatives that physical books will never face. For one, unlike eReaders, books never have to play whipping boy to a power supply. Books are there, at the ready, morning, noon, and night, no battery required. Books will likewise never be rendered obsolete or held back by firmware updates, a problem that eReaders and tablets face more and more. As backwards compatibility is constantly deemed unworthy of the cost associated to maintain by corporate figureheads, a book collection protected from the elements will carry forward into tomorrow without the risk of incompatible software preventing the acquisition of knowledge.

Worthy of note is how a recent study in the PNAS journal shows electronic devices, including eReaders and tablets, induce poor sleeping habits and result in eye strain. A point further pushed by Australian education and reading specialist, Dr. Margaret K. Merga, as told CBS News via email, “Artificial light exposure from light-emitting e-readers may interfere with the users’ ability to sleep, ultimately leading to adverse impacts on health.” Both sources evidence a related problem with eReaders that physical books just do not share.

AI Controlled Knowledge

The scariest facet of the potential ‘all digital future’, is the control we are placing in the hands of corporate knowledge banks, and the risk posed by permanently losing knowledge to destructive hacker groups. Google is currently in the process of scanning books from libraries into its digital banks, that which they have been doing since 2005 via the Google Books Library Project (Google Books). They have since come upon troubling legal battles, wherein Google has had to stand against The Authors Guild for alleged copyright violations.

There have been multiple software scanning issues related to Google’s Library Project; in the best case scenarios, the proprietary Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software alters grammatical marks in scanned works. What may seem minor, in that small grammatical changes were being made, who is to say that this problem can’t either negligibly continue, or intentionally be exaggerated? This point came to a head in 2014, when Google partnered with Barnes and Noble to release half a million digitally scanned books that were virtually unreadable. As a project that was designed to preserve, it is making a bad case for itself in that regard. Lecturers, Maggie Fieldhouse and Audrey Marshall, both state in their digital resource book that, “Google Books is an example of mass digitization that focuses on getting content up and available and less on the quality of the digital product…In other words, the content is made available but there is no stewardship strategy for the content…In order to avoid the realities of digitization without a clear goal in mind there should be discussions that relate to what an organization seeks to accomplish.”

This Doesn’t Have to Be 1984

The notion that we need Google or any other conglomerate to replace our “archaic” books with a controlled digital fountain of knowledge, is an absurd one. The simple case can be made that through the internet we deal with remote data; data is lost, stolen, and changed at an ever growing rate. The most optimistic thing about this path in which we are headed down, is that we need not subject ourselves to such an Orwellian future. We need not remove access to digital books, or prevent their creation. We should be fostering a culture that supports the life of both print and digital.

Digitizing needs to be kept in check with diligence, ensured accuracy, and a commitment to preservation, without the fear of corruption from the power corporations have, and that which others groups seek. Convenience is key to most, but the argument against physical books becomes not one of convenience, but rather sloth and oversight. Sharing, durability, coupled with no batteries, firmware, or sleep detriments, and permanence of knowledge, all undeniable benefits that can only come from maintaining a future where physical books are more than a bygone product of the past.

Digital media should continue to be a tool of convenience, but certainly not a replacement.     


Peet, Lisa. “Pew: millennials and libraries: report examines millennial engagement, reading.”  Library Journal 15 Oct. 2014: 19+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

“Why local libraries are more important than ever.” Knight Ridder/Tribune 17 Oct. 2007. General OneFile. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Chang, Anne-Marie, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy, and Charles A. Czeisler. “Evening Use of Light-emitting EReaders Negatively Affects Sleep, Circadian Timing, and Next-morning Alertness.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112.4 (2014): 1232-237. Pnas.org. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.           

Kraft, Amy. “Books vs. E-books: The Science behind the Best Way to Read.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 14 Dec. 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.

“Books.” Google Library Project – Google. Google Inc., n.d. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.    

Alter, Alexandra. “Google and Barnes & Noble Unite to Take On Amazon.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.    

Fieldhouse, Margaret, and Audrey Marshall. “We Have Proved That We Can Digitize, Can We Prove That We Can Steward?” Collection Development in the Digital Age. London: Facet, 2012. 96. EBSCOhost. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.       

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *