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.

Summer 2007 – The Books

May 8, 2007

Yesterday, I decided to go ahead and drop ILS575-Instructional Design Principles in favor of ILS655-Digital Libraries. I’m not sure why I was avoiding Digital Libraries – especially since, I think it will be an important class to have taken. ILS575 still only had 11 registered students – and ILS655 had 18 (with a max of 20). It seemed that I would be taking a gamble with ILS575. Besides, I needed to get books ordered. The professor for ILS566-Library Personnel Management sent an email this morning with her final choice for our text.

So, I ordered the books this morning from Amazon. The required text for ILS566 is Supervising Staff: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians by Marcia Trotta (ISBN-13:978-1555705244). For ILS655, Introduction to Digital Libraries by G.G. Chowdhury & Sudatta Chowdhurry (ISBN-13:978-1856044653) is required and Understanding Digital Libraries by Michael Lesk (ISBN-13: 978-1558609242) is recommended.

When I placed the order, Amazon offered me the chance to purchase the digital version of the Lesk Book for an additional $9.99. Being an onmivore and one who likes to try everything out, I decided to go ahead and purchase this version. I’ve never used Amazon’s Online Reader, but so far, think this is pretty cool for textbooks. I wouldn’t have done it for a fiction book. After only a couple of minutes using this, I like the fact that you can bookmark parts of the text, highlight relevant pages and get to it from any computer with internet access. I’m definitely looking forward to playing with it a bit more!

Balanced Libraries – Some Thoughts

April 25, 2007

I just finished reading Walt Crawford’s Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change(ok, that was a long time ago at this point). Overall, I really enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of a balanced approach to anything – so I was predisposed to agree with the message of the book. As I mentioned in a previous post, this book is an easy read. I didn’t sit down to read it from start to finish, but I made it more than halfway through the book in a couple of hours last night – between making dinner, doing laundry, etc. It took me barely an hour and a half to finish the rest the next day (spread out over lunch and after work). To me, readability is key – especially since I tend to abandon things that I find overly cumbersome.

So, here are some of my thoughts about and reactions to this book:

  • I would recommend this book to any of my colleagues. Whether one likes the term or not, the concept of Library 2.0 is important as are the discussions that have taken place around it. Reading Balanced Libraries is a great way to learn more about Library 2.0 – in a very non-threatening way that won’t cause people to become overwhelmed by the winds of change that seem to always be surrounding us.
  • I would also recommend this book to people who are feeling a bit baffled by all of the recent hype demanding CHANGE. Conferences, journal articles, presentations, blogs and other venues are all pushing the tenets of Library 2.0, social software, information commons and radical change. I have a good grasp of these concepts, and I often feel overwhelmed about what it all means in practice. I’ve questioned myself and the state of my library several times because of all of this hype. I came away from the book feeling validated in a not-so-insignificant way. I’m doing what I should be doing. I’m keeping myself informed about the things that I need to know about. My library is doing ok – actually better than ok. We are balancing new technologies and tools with patrons needs – all with an eye on fiscal expenditures. IM, Flickr and assorted other tools just don’t make sense for us. They would only be distractions that could possibly detract from other services.
  • I definitely think it would be great for all library students to read also. There is some great information about how to balance change and continuity in libraries – which to me, is a critical message.

So, nothing earth-shattering here (referring to my post, not the book) – but really, I think the book is well worth reading. It is a great way to start needed conversations.

Balanced Libraries – by Walt Crawford

April 2, 2007

I have my copy of Walt Crawford’s Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change in hand. I had requested that the library where I work buy a copy. The acquisitions librarian thought I should have my own copy of it since a couple of my blog posts are quoted. So, I did indeed purchase my own copy. I’ve skimmed a couple of sections (yes, of course, I mean those sections where I was quoted – along with some others). I’m looking forward to reading it from start to finish. I’m a big proponent of balance and tend to believe it is critical for us to strive for balance between employing innovative techniques and relying upon time-tested strategies to bring quality service to our patrons.

My favorite quote so far:

Librarians work most effectively when they recognize that most users (and, for most public libraries, the most dedicated users) are less devoted to constant technological change than they are to the heart of libraries: Good people offering effective access to varied, worthwhile collections that center on books. (p.224)

Update: As of noon on April 3rd, I’ve made it through Chapter 11 – only 4 more to go. The good news is the this is a really easy read (to me that is a positive statement). There are some areas with statistical stuff (a discussion of the Pareto Principle in Chapter 2 and a discussion of Everett Rogers “diffusion of innovation curve” in Chapter 11 as examples) that may require a bit more time and attention. Barring unforeseen events, I should be able to finish it up in about half an hour after work tonight.

A Whole Lot of Empathy

September 9, 2006

I have mentioned before that one of the most problematic things to deal with when taking classes online is the textbook issue. It is often difficult to get the information on the required texts in time to actually get them before the start of the semester – especially for the spring semester. I am currently still waiting for my last textbook to arrive – and am not able to complete all of my current reading assignments because of it. With these frustrations in mind, I definitely felt tons of empathy for Nicole Engard, from What I Learned Today. In a post entitled, Getting angry, Nicole vents about her textbook problems. I have to say that I don’t think my problems are nearly as bad. I can’t believe that the school, the ILS department or the bookstore doesn’t give enough information so that students can find the books someplace outside of the bookstore. It is outrageous to have to email professors in order to ask them to give you the required texts – and is downright wrong to try and force students to buy the texts from the bookstore. Prices are generally so much higher at the bookstore than other online sources.

Books are a real problem that I think schools are going to have to address in order to keep distance students. I have several classmates from overseas – and they need at-least a couple of months in order to have books shipped to them. Professors need to make book selections much further in advance than they do for traditional students who can walk to the bookstore. Schools need to make this information available to students in means other than via the school’s bookstore. The ILS department at SCSU actually has a web page which lists all of the required texts. Of course, not all classes are listed – which can make one even angrier and more frustrated. I realize that faculty need time to prepare (and that sometimes professors are not assigned to a class until the start of the semester), but it is unreasonable for professors to expect that they can let students know a week before the class starts what books are required for a class – and then expect the students to have them for the first day of class.

Nicole, I empathize with you about your book situation. I sincerely hope that it gets better, but tend to think you may have some degree of frustration each semester. I’m not sure if people who run distance education programs understand how difficult getting textbooks can be – and how much frustration students experience because of this issue.