This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 10, 1999

February 10, 1999 - E-Books

I made the classic mistake. I bet against technology.

I predicted that books as we know them today -- ink on paper, bound volumes -- would endure for many reasons. But a key reason was that the resolution of type is many orders of magnitude superior to the resolution of fonts on a monitor.

Right now, computer monitor resolution stands at about 72 dots per square inch. Almost any commercially typeset book has about 1200 dots per square inch. I thought that gap was insurmountable.

Well, IBM just announced a new liquid crystal technology that almost doubles screen resolution. That puts it in the same ballpark as what came out of "letter quality" dot matrix printers about 10 years ago.

Speaking as someone who once bought a computer with 64K of memory -- and thought I was getting a heck of a deal, too -- I should have known better. Technology tends to jump by doubles and factors of four. It now seems entirely possible that in 2-5 years, we'll see handheld devices with text-resolution approximating print.

Of course, there are still many other reasons to believe that traditional books will last. But rather than try to hedge my bets, I've decided to face the music.

The library will purchase at least a couple of these electronic books, probably NuvoMedia's $499 Rocket eBook reader and SoftBook from SoftBook Press ($299). Once staff have had a chance to put these devices through their paces, we'll invite the public in for a demonstration. Nobody knows quite what effect electronic or e-books will have on libraries, but I've made up my mind to be ready.

Come to think of it, there are several ways a book could be improved. How often have you been reading a particularly fine fiction title and then met up with someone who would appreciate a scene that is now some fifty pages back? Or you've just come across somebody in a Russian novel and don't have a clue who he or she is. The ability to quickly search through text is something computers are good at. Coupled with something no more sophisticated than a built-in "clipboard," the e-book could greatly simplify the process of taking notes, or (for the student or teacher) building study guides.

For some kinds of uses, e-book will be perfect -- although fiction probably isn't the best example. Technical manuals that are frequently updated are the likeliest starting place.

Librarians are like any other business people. We keep a sharp eye on the competition. So far, our competition has been the chain bookstores, video stores, and the trucker stops that rent audiotapes. And the presence of a library enhances, rather than detracts from, those commercial outlets. A good argument could be made that we actually boost each other's business.

But historian and former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin once wrote about something called the "Displacive Fallacy." In brief, the fallacy is the idea that new technologies always push out or displace the old. This is what TV was supposed to have done to radio. But radio has many more listeners, and generates many more millions of dollars, than it ever did.

So that's my new prediction. Tomorrow's public library will also have e-books.

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