Thursday, November 12, 2009
The Elephant in the Room
In one week, two things that become ironic side-by-side. Today, I received a copy by the director of Harvard’s library Robert Darnton’s apologia, the Case for Books. The other is that our bookstore has become one of the six bookstores in the nation [sic] to have received an espresso book machine. This enables us to print, for a low cost, any book in the public domain and bind it within minutes (300 pages in 4 minutes). The panels are clear so that you can see the cogs working. (I assume; I haven’t actually seen it run yet.)
There’s an espresso book machine at the Harvard Book Store named Paige M. Gutenborg (the opening was attended by Robert Darnton), one in Vermont, at several at libraries around the country. And there’s one at Third Place Books, north of Seattle.
Of course, this development chilled me to the bone. What will happen to the industries? What will happen to the book? Are we shooting ourselves in the foot? Could it make bookstores obsolete? (Probably not) But Time will Tell. For the moment, I am going to keep my eye on the big lumbering machine in the corner.
Note: I am feeling guilty and disloyal to the store, so I must admit that the EBM does have its attractions. Perhaps I should admit that there is this wonderful website, Internet Archive, which has free downloads for millions of books that are otherwise hard to get a hold of. These are examples of books that will be rescued from obscurity, like Ivy Compton-Burnett's The Present and the Past, or an eighteenth century guide to running the home. Rare books will no longer be restricted to expensive scholarly editions.