Albert Einstein supposedly nailed down a good definition of “insanity.” It’s “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
That fits Washington Post staff writer Michael S. Rosenwald, with one notable exception. He almost always ends up with the same results—mostly negative publicity about e-books—and I don’t think he minds.
Rosenwald’s latest gem is Where are the books? Libraries under fire as they shift from print to digital.
The really weird thing is that Rosenwald is a confessed iPad and Kindle owner who is probably smarter than his persona in certain Post articles. But the truth mustn’t get in the way of a good headline, right?
First off, Michael, as you may or may not know, an e-book is a real book. Perhaps you or your headline writer simply picked up the sentiments of some anti-e-bookers you quoted.
Go to Dictionary.com, and definition 2 of “book” is “a work of fiction or nonfiction in an electronic format: Your child can listen or read the book online.” Lest you dismiss this information because it’s, ugh, online, we’ll consider the basics here. Cover? Check, even if it’s a digital image. Words? Check. Sentences? Check. Paragraphs? Check. Pages? Check. Chapters? Check. Of course, some e-books might be just incoherent patches of odds and ends, but zillions of paper books are like that, too. E-books not real books? It’s a little like Donald Trump saying that Barack Obama, rather than being a “real” American, was born in Kenya. Oh, the fun of marginalization!
In the text of the actual article on e-books and libraries, you write: “One survey of readers 18 to over 68 found that just 5 percent of millennials read only e-books. Twenty-one percent of the millennials said they read more hard copy than e-books, and 34 percent reported that they only read print.
“However, some 26 percent of millennials did say they read about the same amount of print and e-books, which librarians take as a sign that they are headed in the right direction. Library officials also point to studies showing that children enjoy reading e-books and that, in some cases, the technology increases excitement about books.”
Michael, I’m at least grateful for the “however” paragraph (even if you seem to be saying, “Oh, librarians are going by just 26 percent”).
But what’s the point of earlier mentioning the “survey of readers 18 to over 68” and zeroing in on the “just 5 percent” statistic for the number of E-only millennials? It is meaningless when many e-book fans may simply have stashed away a hefty collection of paper books and may even be reading them. My late father’s print library, packed with titles ranging from Da Vinci notebooks to the memoirs of New Deal politicians, is still with me for sentimental reasons. And I am not above revisting some titles there or in my own paper collection. I’m not a millennial. But the same idea would apply. Stories and ideas above format, please!
Also, consider that even some recent books are available only on paper. So how else could even the most rabid e-fan read them? Ditto for books that aren’t immediately available on pulped wood.
Moving on, let’s analyze Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right. So millennials are forever doomed to hate the e-books? Significantly, you don’t explore the abysmal state of e-book literacy among people of all ages, including the young. Educate them about the technology—the press and many others gets a big, fat Fail—and more will come aboard. Although I’ve made this point before, it bears repeating. How many human e-book readers know, for example, how to read with white letters against a dark background if there are glare issues? The most popular software typically allows such adjustments. Or how about using all-bold text and cranking down the backlight or frontlight? What’s more, you can optimize the font and margins for yourself. Sounds basic. But so many people don’t even do the obvious.
Another issue is that navigating an e-book is different from the standard exercise in page flipping. Say, you’re reading a Russian novel with a city-sized cast of characters with unpronounceable names. Then, if your software is good, you can search for characters’ names and see snippets of text associated with them. Presto! You can keep up with them and the book more easily.
You can also learn how to make the best use of navigational bars showing where you are in the book. In addition, with some titles, you can use Amazon’s X-Ray feature or the equivalent to get a general feel for who’s who and a number of other matters.
Even when you write about choosing an e-reader for the beach, you pander when you can to the pulped-wood die-hards: “I shouldn’t have to point this out, but I will: You might be able to continue reading from a printed book that accidentally takes a dip in the ocean, but a waterlogged e-reader is as unusable as an empty tube of suntan oil.” No mention of a plastic bag, eh, or other protection? Since 2012, when you wrote the article, beach-proofing is easier than ever. I own not just a waterproof Kobo Aura H2O but also a Kindle Paperwhite inside a Redpepper case.
You conclude: “Last tip: Reading on the couch is a lot more comfortable than reading on sand.” Translation: Why bother?
Detail: Although gung ho on E, I actually would warn libraries against replacing paper books with e-books unless they first address digital divide issues. What good are e-books to people without the knowledge and resources to enjoy them, especially hardware with which they feel comfortable? Also, some kinds of books just work out better on paper right now—for example, art books and some kinds of kids’ books. Likewise I am concerned about excessive spending in certain cases on cutting-edge tech when libraries can’t even afford the basics.
Simply put, despite my distaste for the frequent e-bashing in Michael Rosenwald’s writings, I myself am happy to consider the nuances. I hope he’ll do more of the same in the future. Words in major publications such as the Washington Post, like it or not, often have consequences. I’ve spent years pushing for well-stocked national digital libraries so we can enjoy the efficiencies of e-books in a country where public libraries can spend just $4 per capita on content of all kinds. The real obstacle isn’t technical—it’s human. Rosenwald does not help by constantly reinforcing fears and prejudices against e-books and omitting mentions of, say, ergonomic solutions. That he works for a Bezos-owned paper is absolutely surreal.
Houskeeping: TeleRead Links will not appear today. Matters related to my wife’s health unavoidably came first.