I’ve discussed with my sister the idea of getting our father an eReader. He’s interested in one, and I get it. He can download books from the library, it takes up very little space in comparison, it’s lighter… and what else? I don’t know. I’m a confessed book snob. I like my wrinkled Rushdie book that I bought in India, or the book of Leonard Cohen poetry that an old boyfriend bought and inscribed for me. I like moving back and forth in the book, pausing to consider Alice Munro’s marvelous turn of phrase, with my finger keeping my space between the pages. I always look to see what people are reading on the bus – much more difficult on an eReader.
So yes, I agree with Sara Barbour in her June 17th opinion piece. It’s an emotional kick for me, my attachment to books.
I remember first year university: the massive biology textbook, the stack of books for my women in literature course, the mammoth introduction to English text that had poetry by Eliot, prose by Chaucer and short stories by… several authors. It’s a doorstopper that you see in many second-hand bookstores or parental basements. In addition to the sheer weight of these books, there is a culture of lineups at the bookstore, lugging heavy backpacks of books for your reference paper, selling the books at the end of the semester, and deciding how much to mark up the text books (highlighting can help you study, but diminishes the re-sale value). eReaders and eBooks could revolutionize academic textbooks.
Electronic textbooks could be cheaper, cutting out printing and shipping costs to start. Errors or updates could be easily implemented, downloaded from the Internet. The electronic textbooks could be more interactive, with quizzes at the end of chapters, or the ability to share notes or questions as a class. They could include multimedia. For the sciences, this could be a 3D image of DNA, a video of cell division, or an animation to demonstrate the physics of acceleration. For the arts, it could be a video of a First Nations potlach, and audio recording of a poem, or and animation of sequencing of behaviours. Perhaps it could make texts more accessible for students for whom English is not their first language (with links to dictionary definitions), for those with visual impairments (screen readers or bigger fonts), or for those with mobility challenges (less to carry, easier to navigate).
I say “could” alot. It depends on publishers being willing to change their practices, re-evaluation of digital rights management. It depends on accessibility and technical support for students and faculty members. Lots of maybes and questions that are still unanswered, but there are opportunities here.
But I’m still buying paperbacks for myself and others. That won’t stop.