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Reading Online

February 8, 2013

As many of my posts mention, as a culture, we are becoming more technology orientated, we want information immediately, and we can do that by using any number of search engines. For the general reader and the academic this can mean different things, things that I will attempt to discuss now.

First off, the kindle/nook/e-reader/ipad/tablet, whatever you use to read that isn’t a book. The invention of the e-reader has caused some controversy among the reading and writing community. Many people like it and use it, and it does have its advantages, they tend to be small and hold many books, great for travelling. But, it has and will continue to cause problems, books are cheaper online, no paper means no shops are needed, and therefore jobs are lost. Not only this, but I’m sure it will be effecting the publishing industry, no doubt ending with the loss of jobs. But, unfortunately, many people want it, need it and use it and that won’t change, so it is something that I think in the future everyone will eventually have to adapt to. I have a kindle, and I do love it, but every now and again I buy a proper book form a bookshop because I miss it. It is a shame that books may become a part of history and not the present or the future; I don’t particularly look forward to that day.

For my research, I often need books that are out of copyright, older books that libraries do have, but are sometimes a bit of a pain to find. But, I have discovered that many websites do publish out of copyright books online. This for me is a lifesaver and does have its many advantages, but there are of course some disadvantages to this service. The obvious advantages are that people anywhere can access these documents and books; this means that the information is in the public domain and is easy to get to, find and use. Research becomes easier and more accessible. But, the problem is that without seeing the book, we can forget that it is a book, yes I know that sounds silly, but it is like reading a webpage if we don’t have the physical book in front of us. This is what I find anyway, much like the e-readers, we may lose some of what the book is.

Again, for my research I use articles in academic journals, all of which have a print edition, but all of which are also online as well. With a click of a button (well a few), I can be reading what I need to read, and download it as well. This is great for me and students like me, and I can see the advantage in this, many students need the same article so it makes sense for it to be online, when it is only 20 or so pages long. But, I can see that it is changing the magazine and newspaper industry. More people are reading their news online, and it is so easy with websites such as BBC and CNN, but this means that some newspapers, like The Times are charging for reading their news online. I guess at some point most of the news and other magazines will be online, which is a shame, because the newspaper is part of our history.

Lastly, I want to have a look at the increasing number of manuscripts and records being digitised and available to look at online. Many places are doing this, including the National Archives. This is brilliant for researchers, it means that, it makes life a little bit easier, and saves sometimes hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of travel. It also means that not as many people need to touch the manuscript, minimising the risk of damage to these old documents. However, researchers need to be careful when looking online, there are many reasons why the manuscript needs to be consulted in person. There could be marginalia cut out of the photograph or the scan of the manuscript, or there may be damage to the document itself, which may not be evident but vital to the research.

This conclusion is very difficult to make because I am torn. I think that going online, digitising is a good thing, ultimately, it makes research more accessible to those who need it, and to keep up with technology is important in this day and age. But, something is lost when reading a book online; it is not the same and an art form, created through the printing press in 1450, which should not be lost. So, make your own decision, if you can, as to whether digitisation of literature is a good or bad thing.

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