A Book Is A Book Is A Book – Or Is It?

August 16, 2007

I’m fascinated by this discussion about books and what actually constitutes a book. There is quite a bit going on in these posts – and the discussion has changed focus during the ensuing conversation. Iris Jastram from Pegasus Librarian summarizes the discussion with the following: “Over at See Also, Steve and Dave* are hashing out whether a book is a book if it’s not printed on paper.” Both posts and the accompanying comments are worth reading. But what really caught my eye was a sentence in a comment left on Lawson’s post from Mark Lindner – “A book is not the contents at all; it is a specific form of container.” This is a response to David Lee King’s contribution that “The content in a book – the actual words… that’s the book.”

Hhmm . . . I guess last week I wouldn’t really have thought too much about the concept of a book. The notion means something specific to me – I understand my own conception of a book. But, it is obvious from this discussion that people have different ideas about what constitutes a book. In this discussion, my thoughts about books are much closer to David Lee King’s than to Mark Lindner’s. The word book, I believe, has come to mean much more than just the packaging. I read a book because of its content, not because of its format. I admit to prefering paper books for pleasure reading. However, I’m all for ebooks especially for things like textbooks and for shorter works. Last semester, I purchased one of my textbooks in ebook format, and I would do so again in a heartbeat. I refer to that electronic copy as a book. I think of it as a book. Its format is actually irrelevant to me. I have purchased several shorter length text in electronic format over the past several months. I still call them books – and have been surprised to find that it isn’t all that unfulfillling to read them on a computer screen.

One of the reasons for Lindner’s belief about books has to do with language and our use of it. I understand where he is coming from on this (and I’m not trying to add to his angst). I do agree with his assertion that book is not a content word. Books are books regardless of their content. However, the word book has become symbolic of a bigger reading experience – at least it has to me. The thought of books can evoke feelings – both good and bad. This isn’t unprecedented because words can often mean much more to people than what their definitions suggest they ought to mean. Language and its use is incredibly complex. It is dynamic – and connotation, implication, emphasis all change language dramatically.

I think this is a very complicated topic – and I doubt that everyone will agree with one another. But to me, a book isn’t always just a book. It’s meaning is in the eye of the beholder or rather the holder.

*Steve Lawson from See Also and David Lee King and his eponymously named blog.

A Peaceful Evening

August 16, 2007

The Reflecting Pool

Originally uploaded by ScruffyNerf.

It is a beautiful, although muggy, August evening. I’m enjoying some much needed peace and quiet – and anxiously awaiting a new episode of Burn Notice tonight at 10PM. Life is good!

Getting Ready For Fall

August 16, 2007

Grades for the summer were available yesterday. Both summer classes went well. Today, I finally remembered to order the text book for my fall class – ILS519 – Collection Development. I keep thinking that I have plenty of time, but that isn’t the case. As I started scrambling like a mad woman to get ready for the fall in my work life, I should have remembered that also meant my classes would be starting soon too!!! The break was too short, but I will comfort myself with the fact that I only have two classes to go (and no, I don’t think I will get tired of writing this).

Coming Full Circle?

August 16, 2007

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time reading, thinking, and writing about the state of libraries and librarianship. This isn’t by accident. After all, I decided to return to school to pursue my MLS because I had a real sense that I was stagnating in my professional life, and I had a general sense of frustration with what I was accomplishing. Many things had become quite routine. I thought going to school would help motivate me to grow and to expand my horizons. I was right that returning to school would do this. I have made an incredible effort to learn more about libraries and about those external forces that affect libraries, to be more aware of current trends and to understand where technology fits in. This has undoubtedly been worth the effort. I sometimes feel quite overwhelmed with it all, but believe that I will be better off for the effort.

However, there has been an interesting consequence to my attempt to broaden my horizons by returning to school. As part of the process of becoming a student again, I have naturally assumed a more subordinate role – a role in which I have expected to learn more from others as opposed to a role in which I educate others. At first glance, this seems to be a normal part of the educational process, especially the formal educational process. But, it seems that I have in many ways taken on the role beyond school. I have been questioning too much, spending too much time researching ideas and concepts and subjugating my own experiential knowledge. I have allowed conversations in the world of library blogs and listservs to make me question myself and what I have accomplished in my professional life. As I think back, this is definitely something that happened after going back to school. Before this point, I was fairly confident in my own abilities and my own knowledge. I was more secure in my place as the technology advocate and expert at my place of work.

My awareness of my recent tendency to subjugate my thoughts and opinions to those of others began when I read the August issue of Cites and Insights by Walt Crawford. Although Walt was not writing about this issue, I was quite struck by the following quote from the On Ethics and Transparency article: “I have faith in my own ethical standards.” A bit later on, I read a blog post entitled Self-Reliance by Laura Cohen on Library 2.0: An Academic’s Perspective. In the post, Laura is arguing that people can’t entirely rely upon others to teach them what they need to know. After reading both pieces, it dawned on me that although I haven’t lost faith in my own skills, I have stopped relying upon that faith in myself. I have allowed the debates surrounding library 2.0, next-generation catalogs, and the like to make me question whether I am being effective or not. This is particularly scary because most of these debates are not grounded in day to day library business. I’m not trying to say that they aren’t important just that they should be taken with several grains of salt. I actually need to unsubscribe from several listservs where these types of debates rage in order to preserve my own sanity.

While I do believe it is important to be able to question one’s thoughts and beliefs and to be open to new ideas, it is possibly more important to be able to have confidence in one’s own position. I do have faith in my own skills, my own ability to judge what is appropriate for my library and my ability to learn from others. I guess that I forgot that for a little while – and maybe this is why I tend to feel so ambivalent about the 2006-2007 academic year (school and work-wise). I may be a library student, but I am also a library professional with a good deal of experience in my field. I guess I allowed the student persona to take over. However, both Walt Crawford and Laura Cohen reminded me about faith in oneself and self reliance. Thanks, I needed that!