Discuss: Going Bookless

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So, have you heard about this new, bookless library?

Bexar County in Texas, which houses the city of San Antonio, will be building a bookless library and I’m just not sure how to feel about it. Without actual, physical books on shelves, the library — which will be cleverly called BiblioTech — will obviously rely on e-readers and e-books. According to the Publishers Weekly article linked above, the library would be “open into evening hours, available to registered County residents, and would provide access to up to an anticipated 10,000 ebook titles, supported with a pool of up to 100 e-readers.” BiblioTech will have a heavy concentration on children’s literature and on providing resources to rural communities. The project also boasts a focus on citizen education, hoping to foster a more informed population in Bexar County.

Yes, these sound like good and lofty goals. But one line of this Publishers Weekly article really got to me. Judge Wolff, a politician who is behind the BiblioTech endeavor, has decided that, “providing a mix of services centered on Internet access and access to e-books is a cost effective strategy for providing information resources and library services.”

Cost effective. I’m sorry, but those words have far too much of the board room about them for a library. For me, a library is about as far from the board room and the corporate world as you can get.

While I see the merits in this idea, and while I know that it really is cost effective in these cash-strapped times, there’s still something that rubs me wrong about BiblioTech. I don’t know what the finished product will look like, but I keep picturing a wide open building set in stark white, with e-readers mounted on the walls or on dais around the room, and computer kiosks scattered around. That’s not a library to me. To me, a library means musty pages, shelves to hide in between and alcoves where you can curl up with a good book. An actual book with turn-able pages.

Now that you know how I feel, I’d love to know what you think of this bookless library. Please leave a comment and share your opinions!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Discussion: Interactive Books

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Earlier this summer, I watched a TED talk about interactive books. I watch one TED talk every weekday and when I’m searching through the videos, ones that include books in the title obviously pop out at me. This one was especially intriguing to me because it was talking about interactive books. I watched a video a few years ago called “Text 2.0” that was about e-books that include options for highlighting and built-in dictionaries to define words while you’re reading and, as opposed to e-books as I am, that all seemed like an intriguing idea to me. When I watched this TED talk, I thought that the presenter — Mike Matas — would be offering up the same kind of experience in an interactive book. Sadly, he was not.

For the most part, Matas’ interactive book — “Our Choice,” Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth” — hinged on visual modifications to the book. The book is presented on an iPad and Matas swipes videos across the screen and shows us how to enlarge the handsome photos included in the book. But is this really adding anything to the reader’s experience? Is this software doing anything more than simply capitalizing on the beautiful, cinematic photography that is included in the book and showing it off on a clear, glossy iPad display? Last time I checked, I can swipe through chapters in a traditional book with my fingers as well. Personally, I was disappointed by Matas’ presentation because it didn’t seem to offer anything truly exciting. I’ve seen touch screens, I’ve seen videos being played on iPads — show me something revolutionary!  Matas says, at the end of this talk, that he wants to develop this software for publishers. This looks great for an informational book like the one they’re presenting here, but would it work for all books? Would it work for books that are not reliant on data, graphs, and photography like “Our Choice” is?

I would encourage you to check out the Text 2.0 video that I mentioned earlier in this post. What’s being proposed in this video is the use of an eye tracker in e-books so that your book essentially knows what you’re looking at. This eye-tracking capability can be used to change illustrations based on where you are in the text, provide word translations and definitions as per your eye movement, and remind you of where you left off. To me, this kind of interactive book could actually be useful to boost literacy rather than simply act as an aesthetically pleasing piece of technology. Check out the Text 2.0 website as well for more information.

What do you think about interactive books? If that’s the way the publishing market is moving, what do you particularly want to see in interactive books? What features are important to you? Share in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

Writing in the Age of Technology

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In this post at Write for Your Life, blogger Iain Broome talks about applications that he uses on his iPad that help him get his writing done. According to his podcast, which you can watch at the link above, the iPad provides an opportunity to write in a whole new way, a way that’s even farther removed from our original medium of pen and paper.

This got me thinking about all the technology that I use to write these days. When I was younger, I was all about scribbling in notebooks. I have an entire dresser drawer full of my notebooks and journals from those early days. But as soon as my family acquired a word processor, I was doing more and more writing through that medium. There is something truly enticing about the snap of those word processor keys and the way it could print directly to the paper like a typewriter or print when you were finished, like a computer.

Lucas Sifuentes, our guest blogger, told me a while ago that he once traversed an entire semester of college with a typewriter for all his assignments. I confessed that I really didn’t think I could do that. I’m a fast typer, but I’m not really an accurate typer. That means that I type very quickly, but the ‘backspace’ key is pretty much my best friend on a computer keyboard. On a typewriter, there is no backspace, there is no room for second chances. I’m sure I could adapt to that eventually, but it would take a long time. I could hope that the charm of an old Underwood typewriter would ease the frustration of no backspace key, but I don’t think the charm goes that far.

Now, of course, there is the iPad. Personally, I have never held an iPad in my hands or seen one up close, but I hear a lot of good things. I hear a  lot of bad things too, but they don’t usually pertain to writing on the device. Even without having ever used it, though, I think I can safely say that I wouldn’t be able to write on it. I don’t even want to venture into the Land of the Kindle for my reading, so I think the iPad is one step too many into technology for me.

What do you guys think? How much technology is involved in your writing? Do you stop at a laptop or netbook, or have you tried writing on the iPad?

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan