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The Value of E-Books

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In some quarters, last fall's news that eBook sales declined in 2015 was welcome. Our misbegotten infatuation with pixels rather than print was finally over. Books are meant to be held in the hand, not read with a backlight on a soulless device.

I understand the lure and romance of print. I became a librarian after spending many hours in public libraries as a child, and then many more hours browsing the library stacks in college. The wonder of seeking just one book, and leaving with many others besides, never grows old.

But I also understand that new technologies do not serve as an existential threat to what we know and love. Television did not end movies, podcasts will not end public radio. And so eBooks and print books will coexist peacefully. The current dip in eBook sales does not indicate their imminent demise, but simply the growing pains that accompany any new product.

Now far removed from those days of browsing the stacks, I value both print and eBooks. With an e-reader I can look up an unfamiliar word in context, highlight key passages, take searchable notes, insert multiple bookmarks.

These are just two different dissemination methods, each with their own strengths.


We should also remember that print books, which now symbolize well-earned knowledge, were once threatening upstarts themselves. Long after Gutenberg became the first European to use a printing press, Italian editor Hieronimo Squarciafico lamented, "Abundance of books makes men less studious." Prior to Gutenberg's introduction of that perfidious press, scroll-makers prepared beautiful and lovingly crafted texts. This unwanted press made it all too easy to get words onto paper, cheapening the reading experience entirely.

Sound familiar?

We should be eternally grateful that the naysayers did not prevail in suppressing the printing press. And we should be equally optimistic about the potential of eBooks.

With a Perspective, I'm Marcus Banks.

Marcus Banks is Director of the Blaisell Medical Library at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

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