To destroy a book

The easiest way to blast a book out of existence is to convert it in digital, remove all life-support for the preservation of its physical copies, and hit delete.

The hardest way to destroy a book is to copy it on vellum and then soak it in water, burn it or shoot a rocket at it. Animal skin burns more slowly than paper. In the first case, nothing will remain. In the other, something might still be recovered.

Digitization is a great development, but it cannot replace the physical item. The two must co-exist. We can marvel before the IIIF viewer (the latest standard in displaying digital collections), but we shouldn’t forget to stand in awe at the beauty and fragility of our physical books, printed as well as manuscript.

Our book cultures have survived many upheavals, much has been lost, but even more has been saved. And this despite the vicissitudes of history, contempt, polemics, book-burning and bombings.

It’s not about nostalgia for the age of print, but about ensuring that our books will still  be there tomorrow, inspiring us to create new ways to do books, as we always have. It’s not about the past, but the future.

What the digital age means for the book is that the only thing which may endanger our book culture today is contempt for the non-digital. And when we decide to build our home libraries solely in file systems, we’ve made a step in that direction.



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