Books On Books
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Books On Books
Bookmarking the book's evolution
Curated by Robert Bolick
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Bookmark this perspective on the future of the book

Travis Alber interviewed by Melville House's Claire Kelly on social reading. Alongside Bob Stein (Institute for the Future of the Book), the founders of ReadMill and a handful of other "future-designers," Alber and "ReadSocial" partner Aaron Miller have put a convincing case forward for how social reading touches a segment of the book's DNA and how the book and our reading may evolve.

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A bookmark for the end of the book? | Colophons & copyrights: Delight in the details « Felt & Wire

A bookmark for the end of the book? | Colophons & copyrights: Delight in the details « Felt & Wire | Books On Books |

On her blog "Felt & Wire," Alyson Kuhn shares her foray into the origins of the word "colophon" (  



In ancient Greece, Ionia to be precise, the city Colophon stood on a summit.   The colophon,  the final page stating the title of the work, who made it, when it was made, how it was made, for whom it was made, etc., stands at the summit of the book, justifying its being named for that city.  It is the maker's signing off from the summit of the foregoing text.  That "signing off" can be construed as the "finishing touch," which might refer to the reputation of the Colophonian warriors for being the deciding factor in many a battle, hence the phrase of Erasmus ‘Colophonem adidi’ – ‘I have put a finishing touch to it.’ 


The name of Kuhn's site -- "Felt & Wire" -- reflects her passion for paper.  She tag-lines it as "Impressions from the Paper-Obsessed," which explains why her entry does not go back as far as the first appearance of colophons on clay tablets ( -- nor ahead as far as their regular appearance in websites (an example of which can be found here (  


But there is a functional logic for going back as far as those biblical "colophons." They are recurring phrases related to the "toledoth"passages that appear in the Genesis tablets (  Toledoth is Hebrew for "generations" as in "These are the origins [or histories] of Noah," which a convincing group of Hebraic scholars translate in the possessive.  As in "The foregoing book relating these stories belongs to Noah" or "This is Noah signing off."  So the toledoth perform some of the same finishing functions as colophons.


There is also, according to the Edenics site (, an etymological reason for going back to the Hebrew.   The word "colophon" itself has its roots in the Hebrew word "Gimel-Lamed," meaning "wave" and "a prominent man-made heap."


Certainly many books fit that etymological definition (a prominent man-made heap) and deserve a colophon whether they have one or not!


Looking forward, though, it is endearing that so many websites bear the colophon device and, in doing so, raise the questions, "Should we think of these websites as books?"  "How might the use of traditional parts of the book in websites or ebooks tell us what the book will be beyond the Age of e-Incunabula?"   


As if to prove the relevance to the Web of the "six degrees of separation" hypothesis, the search for "colophon" leads to an article in  ( referring the reader to guidelines for publishing on the web that come from the National Genealogical Society: (   And that brings us back to toledoth (the "begats") passages in Genesis!


Like the Ebook Timeline entry below, this Books On Books entry for the colophon will be regularly updated. From what better vantage than the colophon to look back for the origins of the book and forward for its future?   More to come on colophons.

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Center for Book Arts: Friday Insights: Support our Artists in Residence!

Center for Book Arts: Friday Insights: Support our Artists in Residence! | Books On Books |

Even the "book arts" are having to go back to the future, sort of, to survive.  


In the Renaissance, the arts and manuscripts were supported by the patronage of the rich and powerful, intent on securing fame, honor or redemption by association with lasting works.  


Along comes the democratizing printing press, and eventually (a very long eventually), patronage is replaced by secured copyright and a working market.   Now the democratizing Web has arrived, and content, including art, should be free, we are told or simply shown by the taking.


Crowdsourced funding won't provide contributors with lasting fame by association, but here's hoping "we happy few" who value the arts and books (digital and print) for their own sake will dig into our pockets.  Watch, listen and think about it.


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Ebook Timeline - Updated 20120725

Ebook Timeline - Updated 20120725 | Books On Books |

As we are still in the Age of e-Incunabula, what better than a trip half way around the world to Japan to see one of the world's largest collections of Western incunabula -- and an excellent site to bookmark?


The National Diet Library's site refers to itself as an exhibition based on the book "Inkyunabura no Sekai" (The World of Incunabula) / written by Hiroharu Orita, compiled by the Library Research Institute of the National Diet Library. Tokyo: Japan Library Association, July 2000 (in Japanese).


The exhibition provides a timeline of incunabula from the second half of the 4th century when the shift to the codex occurred to 1980 when the British Library began entering data on its collection of incunabula into the ISTC.  The site provides much more than this chronology.  Images from the collection, statistics on the type fonts used, coverage of design and how the quires (sheets of paper folded, forerunner of book signatures and files in EPUB!) were arranged, and the binding process -- all are covered straightforwardly and often in entertaining detail.


Look on this site and consider how far we have to go with our ebooks and apps!
Added 20120725.


Feel free to suggest other timeline entries!




Not as interactive as the Counterspace timeline for typography below, but certainly as densely informative, and it extends to typography online.
Added 20120719.


Another timeline, this one focused on bookbinding. Is .zip the binding for an ebook?
Added 20120717.


On the heels of the question above comes an outstanding interactive infographic on a critical element of the book: Added 20120710.


Yet another ebook timeline, and this one is broken down into interpretive categories, "The Age of Writing" and "The Network Era," which is thought-provoking. Are we in "The Age of the Tablet"? ( Added 20120706.


INCIPIT (i.e., where the scoop started):


In 1936, "Chronology of Books & Printing" appeared in its revised edition, published by Macmillan in New York.  In 1996, Cor Knops picked up the torch and started a Book History Timeline from Sumerian clay tablets (he could have started with the caves at Lascaux!) through to 1997 with the first issue of "Biblio Magazine" but with little acknowledgment of ebooks (


Now in 2012, looking back to 2002, we find this journalistic stab at a timeline for ebooks (


Forged together, the chronologies would have to include "As we may think" by Vannevar Bush in 1945, Ted Nelson's coining of "hypertext" in 1963-65, the Apple Newton in 1993 (how many publishers and authors have kept track of the free downloads of their Newton ebooks at and much more.


Another extension of the ebook timeline appears in this book by Marie Lebert ("), which fills in important gaps, misses others and offers more than a few overemphasized continental developments. Her timeline takes us through 2008, which means that the signal events in 2011/12 of ebooks sales' outstripping those of print in some markets are still to be added.

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Conference Tracks, Speakers, and Exhibitors - Going Digital Conference

Conference Tracks, Speakers, and Exhibitors - Going Digital Conference | Books On Books |

Seybold is following up its May 2012 "Digital Publishing Report" with a "Going Digital Conference," mounted by the Joss Group.  They are thinking of two tracks -- one on long-form and one on short-form publishing, both multi-form and 100% digital.   Between O'Reilly Conferences, LBF, ABA, Frankfurt and Seybold, the ratio of annual conferences on digital publishing to industry participants -- even with the recession -- must be rising.  


Anyone have accurate statistics on this?   Second prize:  a Heidelberg Platen Letter Press! 



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Bookmarking a forthcoming title

Tom Abba and Baldur Bjarnason are writing a book -- about "books, electronic textuality and materiality and is a manifesto of sorts."


Some of it slips out intentionally in Abba's blog.  He comments on Touchpress's app of Eliot's "The Wasteland," Flipboard's setting of design trends and Visual Editions' app version of Marc Saporta's "Composition No. 1."   Here's hoping that they also address "Agrippa (a book of the dead)," the work of art created by novelist William Gibson, artist Dennis Ashbaugh and publisher Kevin Begos Jr. in 1992.   That's right, futurists, 20 years ago.

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Expanded Artists’ Books: Envisioning the Future of the Book

Here's a twist, or is it?  


The Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago issued a call for proposals yesterday (19 July) for projects that "provide concept(s) of how the digital work may be transformed into a physical book object – ...."


The premise behind the "award of two $10,000 commissions for new artworks for the iPad [which] will have physical counterparts that intersect, modulate, or inform the digital components of the artwork" is:


"Artists’ books claim all aspects of the book (format, typography, structure, etc.) as potentially expressive. As immersive hybrid experiences for the reader/viewer, these works expand the limits of what we traditionally think of as a book. Simultaneously, we consider that tablet-based mobile platforms are emerging as a dynamic arena for investigation of the notion of the book. Expanded Artists’ Books utilize the rich capabilities of the tablet platform to imagine new forms that a book might take, such as exploring how interactivity challenges the traditional closure of text or the performance of time."


William Gibson's novels leap to mind as examples of predictive fiction (fairly uncannily when you compare Google's VR glasses to the Ono-Sendai Cyberspace Deck that allows characters in the Sprawl trilogy to enter and navigate "Cyberspace [that] consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding." (Gibson 69)  


So why not predictive book art to envision the future of the book?

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"And there you have it, the Kindle of the late eighteenth century!" -- Mike Kelly, Amherst College

"And there you have it, the Kindle of the late eighteenth century!" -- Mike Kelly, Amherst College | Books On Books |

"In 1774 the House of Lords declared that perpetual copyright was illegal and that the fourteen year limit established in 1710 was the law of the land.


What this meant in practical terms is that anyone with a press could now print up their own editions of Chaucer, Milton, Swift, Dryden, Spencer, and others. If everyone could print the same texts, one way to differentiate your product from the inferior output of your competition was through editorial apparatus — introductions, author portraits, and notes."  Mike Kelly, Head of the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College, reporting on William St. Clair's "The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period" (Cambridge, 2004).


The photo here, presumably taken by Kelly, shows two boxes, hinged and stacked on one another and shaped like a stack of four or five large folios.  Together the two boxes hold 109 small volumes, bound in Morocco leather and gilt-edged, constituting "Bell’s Edition: The Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill"  (1777-83).


Anyone who has downloaded the free or cheap Kindle versions of the Complete Works of [name your favorite classic author] will know how little "there" there is to differentiate the products in accuracy, quality or even typography much less editorial apparatus.  Possibly a sign that we are still in the Age of e-Incunabla, although the creators of print incunabula went to the trouble at least to make their fonts and illustrations show kinship with their precursors.   


Kelly's photos and words led me on to PhD student Jacob Halford's related comments at


Halford explores how digitization affects how we read texts, understand and find meaning in them.  The digital text gives the reader a whole new experience of the text as the printed book's structure, font, layout and tangibility of the book are distorted or eliminated.  That may seem an exaggeration, but look at Halford's photos of Galileo’s "A Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems."  In one he holds the book in his hands, in another it appears on a microfilm reader, and in yet another it is shown on a computer screen.  The perceptual differences are stark.


Halford illustrates equally well how digitization alters the experience of meaning through how we locate or find the work -- from its position on a shelf among related works, to its entry form on the Early English Books Online (EEBO) screen or its entry lines on a screen of search results.   As he says, "Historians when trying to understand the past need to understand the meaning of the book, to understand how it was read, what its value within society was. To forget this because of the removal of the various indications found in a physical book when it is placed in digital collections provides the risk of us distorting our interpretation of the past. We can exaggerate the value of a particular book and in that process miss out on, or undervalue, other crucial books because there is little to inform us of a book’s value and meaning when it is accessed through EEBO. So whilst EEBO gives us access to more books, in that process it loses part of a book’s history, and it is a book’s history that helps us to know its value, meaning and significance."


But this is not to raise another Gutenberg Elegy.  Rather to ask, What functions and features should we demand of today's e-incunabula that will make one worth more than another and, more important, will urge them "out of the cradle"? 




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E-incunabla and "A Degree of Mastery" by Annie Tremmel Wilcox

E-incunabla and "A Degree of Mastery" by Annie Tremmel Wilcox | Books On Books |

I have read "A Degree of Mastery" from cover to cover twice.  Once in New York between 2002 and 2005 when I was teaching "Professional Book and Information Publishing" at NYU and wanted readings to help provide students with a sense of the history, art and craft of the book. The second time here and now in Windsor looking for the "right something" to include in "Books On Books."


On both occasions ebooks and digital publishing pervaded my thoughts, but only on the second time around did these questions and observations I want to raise now shape themselves as they have.


Annie Tremmel Wilcox weaves a memoir of her apprenticeship under the renowned bookbinder and conservator William Anthony.  She weaves it with her diary entries, excerpts from an exhibit brochure "Saving Our Books and Words: The Conservation and Preservation of Books," newspaper articles, correspondence, passages from "Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use" by Toshio Odate, step by step descriptions of mending torn pages and crumbling leather spines and plainspoken observation of fellow workers, conference attendees, librarians, government officials posing with restored documents, children making "books" from striped computer paper with wallpaper sewn on for covers and, of course, Bill Anthony, the "Johnny Appleseed of bookbinding."


"Weaves" is the precise word for the structure of her book’s narrative, and it would be the right word for her ebook, if there were one.  As I re-read it, this game of word substitution yielded questions that make this memoir a useful means to bookmark the evolution of the book.


Writing about some of the tools she learns to use -- lifting knives, translucent bone folders, the spokeshave and others -- she says of Anthony's, "His tools were smarter than mine. They knew the correct way to cut paper or pare leather. By using them I could feel in my hands how the tools were supposed to work." (48)  For Wilcox and her reader, Bill Anthony is the master "shokunin," craftsman or artisan.  And when she quotes from Odate "For the 'shokunin,' utility and appearance must be enhanced by the tool's ‘presence,’ that is its refinement and dignity....," this reader asks, What are the tools of the ebook maker? From whence comes their refinement and dignity -- their "presence" -- with which the "shokunin" imbues his creation as a result of his commitment to his craft?  In what tools of the ebookmaker does "the spirit of the tool that records the 'shokunin's' ability through the years to face the uncertainties of life, to overcome them, and to master the art of living" reside?


Too Zen? Perhaps.


An English grad student, Wilcox relishes handling the University of Iowa's Sir Walter Scott Collection, its Leigh Hunt Collection and The Works of Rudyard Kipling.  Confronted with earlier slapdash and botched work on certain volumes of the Kipling, she writes, "Certainly these volumes of Kipling are found on the shelves of numerous libraries across the country, but the integrity of 'these' volumes as a complete set has been lost." (179)  What constitutes the "integrity" of an ebook or its constituents? Are ebooks so “immaterial” that such a question is nonsensical?


The author's apprenticeship included collaboration on the exhibit "Saving Our Books and Words."  In addition to coauthoring the exhibit's brochure, Wilcox contributed to completing Anthony's special project of developing for the exhibit a unique collection of models demonstrating "the evolution of the codex – the form of the book as we know it."(181)  In the brochure she touches on the immateriality and materiality of the Center's work: "Simply defined, preservation is the attempt to save the intellectual content of books while conservation is the attempt to save both the intellectual content and its vehicle -- the covers, paper, endbands, etc. The former is concerned with saving what the human record contains without regard to the forms it winds up in. The latter focuses on the artifact itself, attempts to save this book, this sheet." (192)   What is the “form” of the ebook as we know it? Is the ebook as much "vehicle" as "content"?  What are its equivalencies to the page or to what "binds" the "text block"?  What does it mean to "conserve" an ebook?  Of a digital copy, what are the materials; what is the artifact to be conserved?


Wilcox ends her memoir with the completion of her "masterpiece," the restoration of the incunabulum that Bill Anthony assigned her before his death and which she completed after it with the help of "The Restoration of Leather Bindings" by Bernard Middleton, author of the standard text "A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique."  The work assigned was Pope Pius II's "Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum," printed by Johannes De Colonia and Johannes Manthen in Venice in 1477, which when restored was "not a deluxe edition, but … had great integrity."  In the year 2547, of what will the preservation and conservation of today’s e-incunabula consist?  Will some apprentice conservator understand the “form” of these ebooks "in the cradle" and, master of smart tools, restore them to their integrity?


The image embedded above is of a page from the "Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum," credit,1640.

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ArchBook: Architectures of the Book: Defining the Scholarly Edition

ArchBook: Architectures of the Book: Defining the Scholarly Edition | Books On Books |

A tall order for authors, publishers and scholars working with pdf, EPUB and the iBook and Kindle variants?


"... we find that scholarly editions tend to have at least some of the following characteristics:

they account for the text’s transmission over time, including changes made by the creator of the present edition

they account for alternate versions of the text

they provide additional information to explain or comment upon the text

they provide an instance of the text

they include finding mechanisms for sub-sets (word, section, chapter, etc.) of the text"


Perhaps so, but the criteria are being posed and will shape an important bookmark in the evolution of the printed book to the ebook.


Gargoyle image from

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Post Artifact Books and Publishing

Post Artifact Books and Publishing | Books On Books |

Not a book (yet?) about books, but here is some of the more challenging and edgier (without being offensive) discussion and definition of systems behind the future of books, publishing and reading.  Like Bill Hill's "Magic of Reading," Craig Mod's writing is sympathetic to the craft of the book, the book's purpose in communication and the pressures on its identity and its readers.

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"When men were men, and pirates were publishers". . . Adrian Johns' "Piracy"

"When men were men, and pirates were publishers". . . Adrian Johns' "Piracy" | Books On Books |

The more readable sequel to the author's "The Nature of the Book."  


The extraordinary similarities in rhetoric and behavior of authors, publishers, suppliers, government, and readers in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, 1900s and 2000s so far make you wonder if, as far as IP goes, we are condemned to repeat the past no matter what we learn of it. Well, not entirely true: booksellers and publishers are no longer engaged in pharmaceutics like Stoughton's elixir.

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What publishers are good for . . . "Books: The Culture and Commerce of Publishing"

Sociologists Coser, Kadushin and Powell delve into the organizational behavior of book publishing. Laying out the history and structure of the industry in Part I, they proceed in Part II to describe the interactions one with another of the people who make books within the publishing house.  Special chapters are devoted to the author's "worm's eye view" of the process, the qualified success story of women in publishing and "Books without Authors" (packaging, managed texts, etc.).  Part III turns to the middlemen in the book trade -- literary agents, book reviewers and the channels of distribution.    


Even with the disruption and re-forming of the channels of distribution since the 1980s (the rise of Amazon, the superstores, Walmart, the demise of Borders, the advent of the ebook), this book sheds light on what book publishers bring to the making of books and for what they may still be needed in the next stage of the book's evolution.

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Ebooks: do we really want our literature to last for ever?

Ebooks: do we really want our literature to last for ever? | Books On Books |
A book published earlier this year by an Argentine firm raises questions about the desirability of indelible ink and trackable data, writes James Bridle...


The title of Bridle's item in "The Guardian" -- or "The Groaniad" as it is fondly known for its ponchant [sic] for typos -- is "Ebooks: do we really want our literature to last forever?"   It's hard to tell at first whether Bridle has his tongue partly in his cheek.  


He introduces his theme with William Gibson's collaboration with Dennis Ashbaugh -- "Agrippa (a book of the dead)" -- which is covered in the July 20 post below.   Though he mentions the competition to reverse-engineer the cryptography that encrypted the poem on its floppy disk at the playing of its first reading, he doesn't mention the site ( dedicated to archiving the event of that first reading.  


But as Bridle notes, the physical might have now accomplished the disappearing act the digital could not.  He refers us to "El libro que no puede esperar|The Book That Can't Wait," which its publisher Eterna Cadencia just released in print with ink that disappears in two months.  Bridle's contrarian view to the negative press greeting this instance of print-performance-art is "the persistence of books is a myth in any case: ... One of the advantages of ebooks might in fact be that they are easier to move on from, to delete, to forget, preventing us from getting bogged down in bad books and past selves, and, as Eterna Cadencia want us to do, move on and discover new things."


That may be a clever Heraclitean spark -- or Zen cone as "The Guardian" might have it -- disguising a marketing ploy.   But that very clamor for attention and the clamor of the self-publishing remind us of what is really at stake:  time.     


Our ebooks may be "reading us," but perhaps we are the ephemera in this case.  Long after we have ceased being tracked, some of those ebooks and books -- like the illuminated manuscripts this March at the British Library's exhibition "Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination" -- will mark the human effort to prove the myth that our words and images will last. 

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Our ebooks need a “commons” | No, not that kind of commons, Professor Lessig.

Our ebooks need a “commons” | No, not that kind of commons, Professor Lessig. | Books On Books |
Like most folks on the web, I've been watching the ebook shift with great interest over the past few years. I don't own a Kindle, but I do own an iPad with some Kindle books and some iBooks books and some book apps, and I find them valuable.


Jonathan Stegall is another designer (a design thinker) like Craig Mod (see July 2 posting below) who is looking for the next bookmark or may create the next bookmark in the book's journey.  


The workings of a designer's mind, inspiring.

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A bookmark for the librarians: Pew's 10 lessons in e-reading and one more from BOB

A bookmark for the librarians: Pew's 10 lessons in e-reading and one more from BOB | Books On Books |
Pew Internet's latest report on e-reading offers librarians ten valuable lessons on how they can increase the usage and demonstrate the value of their collections.


The 11th corollary -- there are "herds" of ebook readers out there whose watering holes are here:  


Readmill (  

Kobo Vox (

Copia (

Subtext (

ReadCloud ( Australian site aimed at schools).  


These are only five among several to watch.   Most of these reader apps are available for the iPad, and even Amazon has introduced the facility to share annotations and comments via Twitter and Facebook in Kindle Fire 6.3.  


There is also a new kid on the block:  Zola (, one to watch if only for its ambition to compete with Google Play and Amazon.


Now, if Overdrive were to enhance its recent acquisition Book.ish with this social reading facility, then ....


Caveat:  Michael Kozlowski ( has this to say about the phenomenon:  "In the end, social media in electronic books is severely lacking. ... Having more embedded social functions in an e-reading indie app or mainstream company taking [it] to the next level will only help the industry grow and spurn [sic] more companies to offering competing or better options."


But that's where the 11th corollary comes in.  Librarians might be able to make a difference -- introducing (or following) their patrons into the social e-reader experience, making the global more local, sparking local reading groups and reading lists, providing a local human interaction in helping readers find books and answers about them.  


If the companies mentioned have not already reached out to the library community and publishers to push this possible next step in the evolution of the book, perhaps the librarians should reach out to the social ebook readers and the publishers?

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"Publishing Perspectives : Japanese-style Print-to-E-book Scanning Catching on in the US"

"Publishing Perspectives : Japanese-style Print-to-E-book Scanning Catching on in the US" | Books On Books |
Already popular in Japan, affordable services that scan your print books and turn them into e-books have come to the US, with leading the way.


Check out this story by Daniel Kalder and consider this as "half" a bookmark in the evolution of the book.   Kalder touches on the copyright issues.  But if you are a publisher and can set aside the possibility of nefarious consumer behavior, think of some of the business-partner models that could fill out the bookmark.  


If were to offer you -- with the consumer's approval -- information about which titles were being scanned, would you be willing to offer the consumer a credit toward purchasing similar titles?


The service that offers promises the benefits of spring cleaning one's library and a step toward being able to read more productively (for example, being able to search across several books at once).  And there is where books and reading could take a bit of an evolutionary step forward.



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"The Bookless Library" and "What Will Become of the Paper Book?"

"The Bookless Library" and "What Will Become of the Paper Book?" | Books On Books |

Today, two bookmarks for the price of one.


In his ruminative article, David Bell draws together the currently indigestible trends and events facing the library community:  the economic crisis and rising costs, the shift from print to digital, the improvement in technology's reliability and functionality disintermediating libraries and the decline of foot traffic in libraries, the academic ones especially.    


Bell's is truly a well-contrived essay.  His survey builds to the presentation of a credible but nightmare scenario, whose credibility is enhanced by his carefully modulated tone up to that moment.  


"The year is 2033 ... the Third Great Recession has just struck. Although voters have finally turned the Tea Party out of office in Washington, the financial situation remains .... New York City in particular faces skyrocketing deficits as a result of the most recent Wall Street wipeout, and the bankruptcy of Goldman Chase.  In City Hall, a newly elected mayor casts a covetous glance at the grand main branch of the New York Public Library. Think how much money the city could save by selling it, along with the thirty remaining branch libraries scattered throughout the five boroughs. After strenuous negotiations, the mayor announces a deal with Googlezon, under which the company will make fifty electronic copies of any book in its database available at any one time to city residents, for two-week free rentals on the reading device of their choice. Two years later, where the main branch library once stood, the mayor proudly cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Bryant Park Mall."


Bell deftly punctuates his scenario with the question:  "why should most libraries still own physical copies of out-of-copyright books—that is to say, for the most part, books printed before 1923"  -- especially twenty to thirty years from now when the digital divide has narrowed and another born-digital generation dominating the Sprawl accesses its media digitally?       


As Bell tolls it:  "The transformation is upon us.  ... [and] Ultimately, to survive, libraries will need to become part of the new, partly digital public sphere, attentive to its needs and rhythms, as well as to those of traditional learning and scholarship. The balance will be hard to strike, things will be lost, and the lovers of traditional scholarship will continue to issue their laments. But if we do not try to strike the balance, and move libraries into the new age—well, I’ll meet you to discuss the question in a few years at the Bryant Park Mall."


Over on "Slate," in "What Will Become of the Paper Book?",  Michael Agresta wanes where Bell waxes.  While, like Bell, he extols the extras that ebooks and apps are bringing, he warns that the paper book may well become a luxury item available only to the well off or be unrecognizably remediated and synthesized into book art.    


His example:  German artist Dieter Roth’s "literaturwurst," which presents the complete works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel -- all 20 volumes -- ground up and used as a substitute for meat in a recipe for homemade sausage.


Well, perhaps Roth's works will be displayed in the Bryant Park Mall, but let's hope it is not near a deli.    


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"This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….."

"This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….." | Books On Books |

From Central Stn: The Creative Social Network ...


Starting in March 2011 at the Scottish Poetry Library and recurring the rest of the year in various corners of Edinburgh, small anonymous sculptures made from books appeared mysteriously.  It was as if Joseph Cornell had come to life, translated to Scotland and was using the cultural centers of Edinburgh as a community showroom for the art he would have created if he were alive.


More than "translated," rather "reborn digital."  Always accompanying the arrival of each sculpture, a tag addressed to the Twitter account of the "display case" was placed with the work or somewhere from which it would give clues to the work's location.  The SPL's Twitter account is @byleaveswelive, and the tag seen in the image here reads:


"It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree.… … We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books… a book is so much more than pages full of words.… This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. a gesture (poetic maybe?)"


Click through to Central Stn to see all 26 sculptures, enjoy the full story of, and comments on, the Anonymous Book Artist of Edinburgh, and consider how this complex, ingenious and creative blend of print and the digital is mysteriously apropos to Books On Books.

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Preservation and Conservation Redux

Preservation and Conservation Redux | Books On Books |

"3:AM vanishes --- with 12 years' worth of archives."


Now read the previous historical Scoop here:



Thanks to Ken Horowitz and Sarah Weinman for the tip.

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"To see a World in a Grain of Sand" or tobacco leaf

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand" or tobacco leaf | Books On Books |

"Knowledge in a Box:  How Mundane Things Shape Knowledge Production" is the name of this conference on SHARP's calendar (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing).


Hosting the conference in a renovated tobacco warehouse, the convenors "invite proposals from scholars in the history of science, technology, and medicine, science and technology studies, the humanities, visual and performing arts, museum and cultural studies and other related disciplines for a workshop on the uses and meanings of mundane things such as boxes, packages, bottles, and vials in shaping knowledge production."


Through what smoke and sand mirrors and when might the ebook become a mundane thing?

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Digital scholarship must be technology-agnostic

Digital scholarship must be technology-agnostic | Books On Books |

Here's something the history of the book can teach us going forward.


"Well designed digital work will be machine-actionable, but will also be capable of expressing its content when moved to other media, even non-digital media."  Neel Smith, College of Holy Cross, Boston, MA.


Dr. Smith also blogged today:   "The e-codices project, which has been putting high-quality digital images of manuscripts in Switzerland on the web for several years, has now standardized on a Creative Commons license for all of its images." ;  


The attribution for the image associated with this item is Pellegrin Elisabeth, Manuscrits latins de la Bodmeriana, Cologny-Genève 1982, pp. 330-331.

DOI: 10.5076/e-codices-cb-0137.   The manuscript is a copy of Plato's "Phaedo," the description of Socrates' death.  Its round humanistic script belongs to a single scribe, who identifies himself in red thus, "Marcus Speegnimbergensis scriptsit“ (fol. 75).  


Smith's comments on the Fondation Martin Bodmer Collection at Cologny poses a hard question, What are the digital (but technology-agnostic) forensic tools with which we will uncover our ebooks' Marcus Speegnimbergensis and the evidence of the social contexts and creative tools with which he worked?






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Eisenstein's "The Printing Press As an Agent of Change"

Eisenstein's "The Printing Press As an Agent of Change" | Books On Books |

Here is the foundation stone of 20th century analysis of the role of the invention of printing in the context of the three major cultural changes of the late 15th century to late 17th century:  the Italian Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.  While the author's primary concern is the importance of printing per se as an agent of religious, political, social, scientific, and intellectual change, the book shines as the pre-eminent artifact.


Credit: The image for this item is downloaded from              

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Adrian Johns' "The Nature of the Book"

Adrian Johns' "The Nature of the Book" | Books On Books |

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."


Sir Francis Bacon foretold this book among many with the last part of his statement.   He might have added that, of the latter few, some should be digested together to make a many-course meal replete.  "The Nature of the Book" can be profitably digested with the author's second volume "Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates" as "afters" with the abridged version of Eisenstein's "The Printing Press as an Agent of Change" and Pollard's "Fine Books" preceding.


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