Some argue that it does not matter the vesicle by which one reads a book; what matters more is whether the content of the book was archived in the mind. The opposing school of thought is that the reading of physical, material, tactile books, which are often then stored or exhibited, is the only way of truly growing a library. Both creeds agree on one thing: the savoring and keeping record of literary journeys is a worthwhile pastime. What differs is simply the method of transport.
Techno buffs believe in E-Readers: Nooks, Kindles, Kobos, iPads, tablets… others currently in development. They feel this is the most accessible, most efficient means of transferring knowledge from writer to reader. Readers of electronic books claim to store information in their brains and, consequently, their brains become their library. Interestingly, most E-readers on the market today contain a pictorial, electronic “library” of sorts that displays books, in a virtual (shelved) room. However, does this truly constitute a library? If one considers the history of hundreds of years of printed books, does one feel satiated in reading a book on a mechanical device? Does brain archiving not occur in both E-reading and hard-copy book reading? What would historians say? What would inventors of the printing press say if they knew their printing presses were collecting dust?
CBS Writer/ Producer Amy Westerby says, “I have to look at computer screens and TVs all day long. It’s nice to NOT look at one when I get home. I like to hold a book in my hands.” Registered Nurse Adeline Seekel feels differently. “If I want a book, I can have it on my E-reader instantaneously and begin reading it within a few minutes.”
An entire anti E-reader group exists. Let’s call these hard-copy readers H-readers, for the sake of brevity. H-readers pride themselves on books that take up space. H-books are objects that they can hold in their hands, embrace the texture of and smell. H-readers believe it is these tactile sensations that add substance to a work in a way that E-books cannot. For H-readers, hard-copy books embody the passage of time.
If one is holding an antique book, for example, H-readers will be enveloped in its discolored paper, its musty smell, its faded type (crafted by a typewriter?) the wear and tear, the agedness of the piece, as an important facet—perhaps even AS important—as the story itself.
Antiquarian collectors believe it is this overarching worn quality (preserved thoughtfully) of an antique book that gives it its luster—An oxymoron of sorts. Antique books have been held by many hands and enjoyed or rejected by many hearts. Does this make the words inside them more meaningful?
H-readers would argue that physical books are the only way to truly grow a library in the brooder, historical definition of “library.” Some H-readers take pleasure in displaying books they have read by parading them like trophies. “See what I’ve read!” It gives them a sense of pride, a nod to an education, and perhaps food for dinner-party conversation. H-books can feel like limbs, each one adding depth and richness, each adding layers to a reader’s life—like leaves of an onion, or rings on a tree.
While on the topic of trees, E-readers may believe they are being “greener” by not buying true books. It is true that they are not chopping down trees to enjoy Oliver Twist; they are merely enjoying the same words, verbatim, via a modern technology that invokes less damage to the environment than an H-book might. However, this argument is weak with newly published works, because they tend to be printed on recycled materials.
There may be precautious reasons for growing an E-library, as oppose to an H-library: No fear of fire or flooding, even theft (but what thief loads entire libraries onto his quick get-away van?) Who can say for certain that an E-device would not also be susceptible to fire or flood? Perhaps the likelihood is less with an E-book since E-devices tend to be carried on the reader’s person, however, the risk still exists, if only slim.
There is also the question of what happens to an H-library once its owner has parted from this world. In most cases, the children of the deceased must carry the burden of finding homes for these mementos, a chore that is not often a welcome one. Donating, selling, sorting to see if there is anything sentimental and/ or valuable, holding estate sales, hiring professionals (realtors, attorneys, etc) can be a hefty job. In short, big H-libraries have the potential to become big headaches.
Another consideration for H-readers with sizeable H-libraries is if they want to move locations. H-libraries can be cumbersome in this sense too. Mobilizing (and re-categorizing) hundreds (thousands?) of books, with their accompanying bookshelves, can be a daunting task.
All logistical considerations aside, we can summarize that E-readers exercise two senses: seeing and scrolling, while H-readers exercise three senses: seeing, touching and smelling. Does an olfactory element add to the literary experience?
Both E and H readers may be content to borrow a book from the library or a friend. They read it and then they give it back, so no library is being constructed at all. Growing a library holds no significance to these people. Jerry Seinfeld’s character on Seinfeld, the hit 1990’s television sitcom, was one such believer. Jerry asks, “What is this obsession people have with books? They put them in their houses like they’re trophies. What do you need it for after you read it?”
Folks who believe that each book they read becomes a permanent fixture in their life—a limb on their body—would respond to Jerry’s declaration with a great deal of conviction. “We need them after we read them because they are a part of us” they reply. (This holds true whether the reader fancied the book or not.) Fascinatingly, a die-hard H-header will sometimes not even allow a friend to borrow one of his books (his limbs) because this would mean parting with a close friend for an extended period of time, with no insurance that the book would ever be returned. The excuse, “Oh, I forgot I had it. Are you sure I have it? I’ll have to look…” can mean the end of a friendship.
Whatever school of thought you subscribe to, the E-school or the H-school, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” –Cicero. Whether you choose to grow your library metaphysically or materially, may it bring you much joy.
Side note: There are no hard and fast rules saying one cannot be a participant in both schools of thought. However, literary people tend to be very clear—and persuasive—on which library they have chosen to grow.