Our university library is adopting the policy of only buying electronic versions of books when it can. I can see the attractions: instant access to many people simultaneously, less wear and tear, less space used.
But does it alter the ways in which we own, relate to and use books, and do these questions have any relevance in an academic setting? I gather that an e-book on your Kindle is owned by the copyright holder: it can be wiped from your machine, and you can't give it or lend it to anyone. Is it the same for libraries and their users?
I worry that the e-book distances us from the text: it can't be underlined, scribbled on, held open with a mug while you consult one of the other ten books lying open on your desk, you can't stick bits of paper in to mark an important point that does/doesn't relate to the page you're currently reading. Perhaps there are solutions to these things: my students are bringing Kindles to class with no discernible loss, and in some ways its better: many texts which would never have been printed are now available electronically.
However, there is an identifiable academic failing. Many students are now using Google Books as a primary research tool: searching for a word or phrase, extracting it from the Google or e-book source and claiming to have read the text. So often I find the relevant passage and discover that the student's misunderstood because they haven't read beyond the sentence, page or paragraph from which the quote came. This isn't research: it's data-mining: they're not the same thing.
On a minor point: I hate reading on a screen - my eyes really hurt after a while, which is why I resist electronic marking. I can't face reading 400 essays on a computer, nor do I want to read 400 pages of a critical text on one.
But as I say - it's an area I've not investigated. What are the gains and losses from a bookless academic library?
Update: fascinating defence of e-books by Tim Pears in the NY Review of Books.
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