Reading fiction

Reading fiction is not my preference. I prefer true stories; epic adventures; personal quests; travel, and description of place. Fiction has to grab me in the first ten pages; otherwise I become bored and abandon the book. After all, life is too short and there are too many books to read.

For me, a good fiction story is a page-turner that makes me keen to know what happens next. I hate reverse chronology. Often I find a story has hooked me in the first chapter, and then the following chapter takes me back to some point in the past. And that’s where I usually abandon the book.

I like a good story, told from the beginning to end with some unobvious point of focus that gradually unfolds to a satisfactory close. It is disappointing to say, “ I liked the story, but I didn’t like the ending.” I loathe nihilistic tales of woe with hopeless and detestable characters that seems to be a current popular theme.

But is reading fiction a waste of time, as some people suggest? After all it is just someone’s imaginary tale. And why bother when our world is full of amazing and interesting real people, lives, places and situations?

Research provides interesting reasons that support reading fiction as a valuable activity. Not only does this pursuit provide insight into situations and ideas outside of our everyday life, but there is evidence to suggest that it has positive effects on our brains by making new neurological connections that remain activated long after the reading activity is over. This heightened activity called a ‘shadow activity’, similar to muscle memory, by scientists working on the Emory study.

We reiterate the idea that there are only seven basic plots:

  1. Overcoming the monster.
  2. Rags to riches.
  3. The quest.
  4. Voyage and return.
  5. Comedy.
  6. Tragedy.
  7. Rebirth

Typically though our bookstores and libraries arrange fiction into genres of:

  • Romance
  • Relationship
  • Humour
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Adventure
  • Historical
  • Classic
  • Western
  • Chick Lit
  • Paranormal romance
  • General
  • And others.

My fiction reading sometimes follows a typical pattern of author trails. I discover an author I like, then I am keen to read more by that person; until I am satiated with their voice, style, and ideas. Elizabeth Gilbert and Joanne Harris are two authors I enjoy reading. I loved The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is stunning with its unique story and intelligent prose. I like to follow a trail of reading that is unique to my interests at that time.

Many librarians use website tools such as Fantastic Fiction, Literature Map, LibraryThing, GoodReads, and others to find the next great read for ourselves and our customers.

But there is more to be said and understood about the activity of reading fiction and how it impacts and influences our community and society. Librarians get a very real sense of this phenomenon when working with library users. Some book titles seem to grab hold of the attention of the populace and there is a groundswell of interest that seems to defy understanding. The Slap by Christos Tsolkias is an example that comes to mind. It was an uncomfortable book to read. Not everyone liked it. One incident provides the focus for a masterful portrayal of multi-cultural suburban Melbourne in current times. The slap itself – right or wrong – receives attention and opinions from different generations and cultures, and ultimately judged in politically correct times. This resonates with a culture where this experience is known, shared, and debated. We all have an opinion and all are valid.

“Texts affect readers on many levels – emotional, ethical, intellectual, sensual, spiritual. Consequently, two readers can respond very differently to the same text.” ~ Robert Beardwood

But this book had its time and that groundswell of attention is past. Did we learn anything? How has the experience of reading this book of fiction influenced our society? You will still find this title in the bookstores, libraries, and on Book Club lists, but it has been read, discussed, made into a TV series. Why have we gone past that particular book when there would still be many people who haven’t read it? We could apply the analysis of this phenomenon to many new and popular fiction titles. It would be an interesting study.

Fiction of this type leads our collective conscience. We read, we think, we learn, we discuss, we grow, we evolve. I think that this is key to the function and popularity of Book Clubs in our communities. But we know that.

Now relieved of my requirement to read bureaucratic reports and academic articles, I have been trying to catch up with some fiction reading. I have just read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. And now, like so many others at present, I am immersed in the book The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I am thoroughly enjoying the voice, the story, the situation, and the intelligence.

Using SlideShare

I have been using SlideShare for many years now as it is a perfect tool for presentations, showing people how to do things, and explaining concepts – on the run. Of course this list is not a complete list of my presentations to date, as I have presented others for a purpose, but not for public access.

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Each presentation here served a specific purpose and was created at a particular moment in time. So you might notice that some of the online tools explained no longer exist or have developed into a slightly different version.

Here is a list of my presentations in order of date creation:

  1. How to create a wiki (2008). I created this ‘how-to’ guide to show school teachers how to create an online platform for collaborative class assignment work. To date: 112757 views; 928 downloads; 5 comments; and 34 likes.
  2. How to create a wiki using PBWiki2 (2008). I created this ‘how-to’ guide when changes were made by the PBWiki team. To date: 3337 views; 38 downloads.
  3. Blogs and RSS in 2009 (2009). Subscribing to RSS feeds is a perfect tool to assist people to refine their information needs from the Internet. It can be a little technical to describe and set up. I gave a talk on this topic back in 2005 to a group of librarians but the tool being used then was Bloglines. In 2009 it amazed me how few people still knew how to use this technique, so I created this presentation to explain why you would want to do it, and how to set it up. Unfortunately Google Reader ceased to exist in 2013, so other RSS readers are required. I now use Feedly and sync this with my mobile phone. To date: 978 views; 4 downloads.
  4. Photos by Susan Bentley (2009). I love taking photos and wanted to collate and share a few of my best shots. To date: 2255 views; 61 downloads.
  5. Social media considerations for local government (2013).  I was part of a team considering and creating a social media policy and procedure for the local government organisation where I was employed. This presentation I created to help explain the situation to other employees. To date: 442 views.
  6. Presentations in Second Life (2013). In 2013 as part of my Masters studies I studied the subject Social Media for Information Professionals. Part of this work requirement was that we visited the Charles Sturt University campus of Jokaydia in Second Life to meet others and watch some presentations of work by students from another subject. To date: 184 views.
  7. Social media for our organisation (2013). Again as part of the training roll-out of online social media use for the organisation where I worked, this presentation offered more information on the topic. To date: 139 views.
  8. Personal digitisation plan (2013). I studied the subject Creating and Preserving Digital Content for my Masters studies, and needed to formulate my own plan of attack for my own collection of photos. To date: 177 views.
  9. Daring greatly (2013). I enjoyed watching the inspirational talks by Brené Brown on TED, and used the words from her manifesto to inspire the team I led at Glenelg Libraries. I matched these words with some photos I had taken of the local area, then edited using Instagram. To date: 226 views; 2 downloads.
  10. Library Trek (2013). I was invited to give a talk about contemporary public libraries to the Red Cross Conference held in Casterton and these are the slides from that talk. I was well aware that the audience mainly consisted of elderly women who have very little experience or knowledge with technology, and yet I wanted to try to give them an idea about the possibilities for them in the online world – and how their local library could help them. Feedback from some of the people there said that it was the least boring talk of the day. Obviously without the speech notes these slides don’t tell you much. To date: 82 views.

Zombies and the future of libraries

What do zombies have to do with the future of libraries you may well ask? In ‘reality’ if there was a zombie apocalypse, libraries would perish along with all of humanity. And being zombies, one would hardly expect them to have an active interest in the future of libraries or indeed any intellectual pursuit.

Like many librarians I have been thinking about the future of libraries a lot lately. It is a hot topic in the library world, mainly due to evolving technology, the proliferation of internet-connected personal devices, and the cheap and easy access to eBooks. The spread of the World Wide Web did not result in the end of libraries, but it has reduced our physical non-fiction collections substantially. Now with the second wave of internet-enabled technologies, does anyone need to go to a library at all to get hold of the reading material they want and need? Perhaps that end is in sight and this has resulted in a lot of talk amongst library professionals. So what are we here for?

The Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework was published in 2013 after 18 months of intensive collaborative discussions by public library staff in Victoria, of which I was privileged to be a part. Future scenarios were discussed in detail, how these scenarios might unfold, and what might be the key drivers to certain future scenarios. The drivers were identified as: technology, environmental issues, commuting, economic problems, health, increasing ageing population, cooperative endeavours, education and lifelong learning. The final stages of these discussions allowed us to add public libraries into the scene, thereby discussing how best to address and take full advantage of some new unfolding situations. Two future scenarios emerged: the creative scenario; and the community scenario. Both of these scenarios described the future public library as a community space.

Library as ‘community space’ has already had a whole lot of verbiage. Isn’t that what public libraries have always been? Perhaps I am not old enough to remember the places of shush, where reading books was done alone and in silence. There is value in the concepts of place-making, maker-spaces, and community collaboration. This has been, and continues to be, my experience of the library. The only quiet library space I can recall is the reading room of the State Library of Victoria; otherwise libraries are full of conversation, activity, people traffic, meetings, entertainment, coffee, and laughter. Oh, and books!

Personally, I am typically bookish, introverted, nerdy, and self-motivated. I like to explore notions on my own. This is the main reason why I love libraries. I enjoy following a pathway through literature that is entirely determined by me and as a result of my reading. I have described this as ‘delving into the book’; it is an entirely unique journey that begins and ends with the book, with regular forays online when new information is needed. I concur with the words that Nancy Pearl wants as her epitaph, “I’d rather be reading.”

The IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994 does not mention the book at all, despite being written pre-internet. The manifesto defines public libraries as “the local gateway to knowledge”, and is essential for “fostering peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.” Key mission number two, “supporting both individual and self conducted education”, validates my own habits. Public libraries are seen as fundamental to democracy, prosperity and knowledge, so how can anyone consider a future without libraries?

At the recent ALIA Future of the Profession Summit Mark Pesce urged those librarians present to share their knowledge in order to plan a future for libraries. He reminded them that “the culture of sharing has its origins in the library.” And while “the light of knowledge shines more brightly than ever before, from two billion smartphone screens”, this is an opportunity because it is librarians who are the experts “in an environment of informational hyperadundance.” While the librarians in Victoria did just that last year, the resulting framework is one interpretation of possible future scenarios. The trick is in being able to recognise the triggers and apply the strategies at the right time.

Neil Gaiman is an enthusiastic supporter of libraries and he explained recently that “everything changes when we read”, that “libraries are the gates to the future”, and by closing libraries “you are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.” A dire warning indeed!

So back to the zombies… Dr. Matthew Finch is responsible for The Zombies of Tullamore:

In an interview with Corin Haines he talks about his approach to attracting people into the library. By choosing a theme that excites the imagination of a particular audience, he uses the activity to enhance the literacy experience within the library. I’m sure lots of librarians and teachers do this already, but this is a good example of how to do it well and to instill the learning opportunity into the activity. It is more than just a trendy promotional hook; it is immersive learning through role play and self discovery.

He identifies “why Zombies are good for libraries:

  1. Zombies attract kids and teens of all backgrounds.
  2. Zombies remind us that libraries are about more than shelves.
  3. Zombies promote choice and independent learning.
  4. Zombies may decay, but immersive literacy lives on.”

A lot more about the future of library profession can be found here.

This is what I know:

  • People will keep creating new content: fiction and non-fiction.
  • People will want to read that content for a multitude of reasons.
  • People will always expect and deserve to get unrestricted access to reading materials.
  • Technology will continue to evolve and change the way we live.
  • Library funding will continue to be threatened.
  • Librarians will continue to want to organise content.
  • Libraries will continue to be adapted and adjusted to accommodate the new.
  • Fun makes learning easier.
  • Zombies are fiction.

P.S. R. David Lankes talks about the future of libraries in this presentation From Loaning to Learning

The power of the passive

Typically as a Librarian, reader and book lover, I am an introvert. So I tend towards being quiet, reserved, shy, aloof, socially awkward, not fond of big groups of people, and private. I think, ponder, listen, discern, assess, appreciate, analyse, observe and evaluate: before I speak- usually.

MC900434752I like to weigh up arguments and information. Sometimes appearing wishy-washy, non-comprehending, or a fence-sitter; I can usually appreciate both sides of a situation, and without a vested interest, nor a full understanding about all of the facts of the matter, I am reluctant to side with either polarity. Life is not black and white, but yin and yang with a little bit of each in the other.

I don’t like small talk, but I admire the way extroverts so easily begin with small talk and quickly move a conversation into a more meaningful depth. I can’t do this. It’s not that I am not interested in the opinions or lives of other people; I just don’t like to pry. Over the years I have learnt to manage and overcome my fears to some degree, of course.

Lately I’ve realised that the conversations I am listening to and a part of, have taken place in a variety of ways. My conversations are virtual, online, via podcasts, in person, while involved in activity, with special groups such as Buddhists, Librarians, and local government staff.

This week I attended some presentations in Second Life. The topic was “preservation of audio-visual materials”. It was strange to be sitting at home at my desk looking at my PC, whilst also being involved as an avatar seated in a virtual room with other avatars listening, observing, taking photos, and being a part of the discussions. Two robots, a pirate, a girl with wings, and other cool guys and girls congregated – alter egos for the librarian-techie-geeks, seated in our homes across the country, enjoying a topic in which we share an interest.

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At work I gave a presentation in real life to a group of people about social media for our organisation. As a quiet listener, this does not come easily to me. But as they grapple with trying to control Facebook for work purposes, I tried to lead them deeper into the Web 2.0 world. They are only dipping in their toes (faces), while I was encouraging them to see the bigger picture. I tried to encourage them to create their own Personal Learning Network by providing them with a brief overview about how to do this. They looked at me with blank stares. These weren’t Librarians or people who work in libraries. Thankfully the library staff I work with are well up to speed with online tools.

Other conversations I am part of take place while cycling or enjoying the compulsory coffee afterwards. Also after sitting in meditation with a group of like-minded people, we chat about the meaning of life and how to be better at it.

I travel alone each day; a 50 minute trip to and from work; and I love to fill this time listening to podcasts. There are so many available now on a range of topics. So while I listen to someone speaking as if in conversation directly to me, I consider the absurdity of the situation. This person, who I don’t know, is sitting at their home alone speaking and recording into their PC, hoping that someone like me will find, listen to and appreciate their ramblings. I am currently listening to Dean Dwyer’s Make Shift Happen, Michael Hyatt’s This is Your Life, Steve Thomas’s Circulating Ideas, and others.

Feeling inferior and apologetic for most of my life for my bookish ways and failure to be extroverted, I am finally validated by the words of Susan Cain about the value of being quiet. I have read her book Quiet and enjoyed her TED talk. Thank you Susan.

Besides, all of these talkers, performers, teachers, and show-offs need an audience and who better than someone who is quiet, listens, observes, evaluates, and knows how to appreciate their efforts?

I am currently reading an eBook version of Make Shift Happen by Dean Dwyer, I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson, and The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain Ph.D. I am also reading my study materials for the subject Social Networking for Information Professionals.

How does your library grow?

In keeping with the National Year of Reading, I continue to write about the monthly themes, and for September it is “grow”. My focus is on public libraries.

Many people assume that public libraries keep all of their books, and when not being borrowed, they sit on the shelf or are kept in storage somewhere. However this is a myth. In reality public libraries have very limited space and books don’t often remain in any one spot for very long at all. It is a dynamic process of purchasing, processing, sorting, shifting, distributing, displaying, shelving, re-shelving, retrieving, loaning, issuing, returning, re-shelving, repairing, evaluating, sorting, boxing, and at the end of its use – selling in a book sale or sent on to some other need. There is often not a mysterious “stack” of old books preserved for prosperity, unless the library is the National or State Library.

Public libraries attempt to manage this dynamic process with a Collection Management Plan that addresses the demographic of their users to try to predict demand. This plan offers guidelines to manage donations, weeding, purchasing, and when used in conjunction with a clever Marketing Plan, should maximise the collections full extent.

Often people generously offer their pre-loved books thinking the public library will cherish them as much as they have, whilst in reality they are often boxes of dog-eared, smoke-saturated, food-stained paperbacks that only add workload and obstacles to an already jam-packed library work space and work load. The local public library does not have the capacity to “grow” to this extent. There are exceptions of course, and sometimes the books donated are real treasures.

Direct request from customers for popular books and other resources proves to be a useful way to grow the collection while responding to local demand. But it can’t be the only driver because often there are fantastic things that exist that people aren’t aware of, or know that they want – yet. This is where the librarians craft comes into play and they can shape the collection with their expertise, worldly knowledge and creativity.

The Long Tail is a concept coined by Chris Anderson in 2005 and when applied to the library collection is easy to understand. If a library were to buy copies of the latest popular release in quantities to supply the demand and responded each time to every best seller, the shelves would soon be lined with multiple copies of last year’s bestsellers and little else, and look like a short stumpy tail. It would be like a drinks refrigerator filled with one brand of beer, or just beer. Which might be fine for beer drinkers, but not so for those who prefer champagne or tea or green smoothies. The Long Tail theory shows that by offering an array of many different titles on a diversity of subjects that often the quirky niche subjects get a space on the shelf that will be justified when it is inevitably matched with the diverse and quirky interest of a customer. And to paraphrase Tim Flannery, “The continued existence of the species depends on diversity.” When you apply this to humans then our existence depends on a diversity of attitudes, interests and knowledge that can only be gained by offering a wide range of topics for investigation. A browse along the shelves of the non-fiction section  will show books about beekeeping, how to work a room, bushcraft, Hagar, heavy metal music, the cats pyjamas, work abroad, survival, ideas, Shakespeare (of course), Henry Lawson, travel, art, architecture, computer help, languages, pregnancy, health issues, etc, etc.

The serendipity of browsing library shelves is a well-known and enjoyable pastime and many have commented on this human behaviour. Bryan Loar of Brave New World says that by using the online catalogue and reserving items ahead of time then “self-directed discovery has been lost”. Professor Todd P. Olson of Berkeley in California values the experience of browsing the library’s shelves so much that he has launched a fundraising campaign towards the “continuation of library collections to ensure that the joy of discovery will continue for generations into the future”. Steve Penn talks about how “you walk around the shelves and suddenly find something that you weren’t looking for but seems just right for you.”  Maria Popova of Brain Pickings worries “that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, ideas that we may later transform into new combinations with applications both practical and metaphysical.” And I could go on…

So eBooks and other electronic resources seem to offer a solution to the problem of relieving limited physical spaces in libraries, but restrict the valuable and enjoyable experience of browsing for the serendipitous find. Again I try to imagine the library space where much is only available as an electronic file or online. An electronic collection can grow beyond imagination, storing and preserving every book forever! Of course the preservation of electronic files is another complex issue altogether. But as Seth Godin tells us “Librarians who are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.”

Well Seth Godin doesn’t have to convince me that libraries are not just warehouses for books, but if our buildings are not growing with new physical materials, and our collections are “hidden” in the “connected” cyber-world, then who and what is in the building? And how can the average Joe Blow discover, develop and grow with that serendipitous ah-ha moment of stumbling across that book that will change his life? I think it was Og Mandino who told the story about how he was destitute, homeless and was on his way to buy a gun to kill himself when he stumbled into a public library and this “saved” him and turned his life around. That weird unkempt, smelly, apparently homeless person who visits your public library every day might just stumble across his/her saving grace.

In the past I have thought that perhaps the library could display images or video on large screens of these hidden resources. Libraries do this now and have been for some time. And although it might create visual interest, it is just another screen in a world where screens proliferate. And the images would be limited and could not portray the full extent of the collection. And these have tended to be rather static displays even with the inclusion of video segments. Library catalogues could be (and perhaps are being) developed whereby the screen is used to display current catalogue items in a way that is more dynamic and interactive, uses multi-media, and has the ability to display at random or by selection, when not in use by a customer.  Perhaps the items displayed could be recommendations that respond to the person who passes by based on their past loans. I am sure the current technologies in Library Management Systems and RFID could already do this, however then we get into the murky waters of intrusion and privacy.

Question: Libraries in 2030?

The theme for August from the National Year of Reading 2012 is “question”.

So my questions relate to “What will the library look like in 2030?”

What will a library look like when all the books are eBooks? Will physical books survive the tsunami of eBooks?

Will the prophesized vision of the library from the original Time Machine movie be our reality? I recently tried to remind some colleagues about the scene from this movie where the dusty books in the Grand Old library disintegrate at the Time Travellers touch, and they all looked at me with blank stares alarmingly similar to the blank stares of the future human race in this movie!

When searching YouTube for a clip I found this Lego version:

How will serendipitous discoveries occur?

How will the curious readers find great reading material unfettered by firewalls, logins, advertising, and Big Brother watching?

Will the “library as haven” as quoted by Alan Bennett become a quaint memory of a bygone era? This article reports Alan Bennett and others campaigning against library closures in the UK last year.

The Library Book is a collection of short stories about libraries offered by Alan Bennett. One story The Defence of the Book by Julian Barnes provides a vision of one possible future if library closures occurred.

This image from The Time Machine of the library of the future has always stuck in my mind:

The weight of words

As a lifelong lover of books I can list many good reasons to support printed books as opposed to electronic books: the beauty of the printed book as an object is a view shared by many; the musty smell; the weight in your hand; the perfect size; the tangible delight of anticipation and discovery as you flick through the pages seeing sentences, thoughts and images at first glance; the sound of the pages turning. A whole library of these wondrous creations can keep your attention for days.

But I am being nostalgic. This may well be a vision from our past. Coffee-table books are more suited to these attention-deficit times. A quick flick through a glossy work of biblio-art is all our brief leisure time can afford.

Reading books is a lot more complicated now with the evolution and availability of ebooks and ereaders. Many of the things we love about the freedom of reading a book has finally been translated successfully to the ebook device: portability; visual ease of reading on a screen; choice of font size; finger-flick to next page; the sound of pages turning. Where once you might have carried one or two books in your bag for reading on trains, or in waiting rooms, or on the beach, your ebook device can carry that whole library of musty old books in the palm of your hand. Can it really? Theoretically – yes, but what books and how?

It depends! It depends which device you have, which distributor you choose, what format your device likes. Apple make it easy for even the most technologically- challenged amongst us – but at a price. You will be a slave to the proprietary nature of Apple products. Ipods, ipads, and iphones can do it all simply and quickly through the itunes software that connects your device with their software via the internet. But their software must be loaded onto your own pc initially for this all to work seamlessly. Apple has world domination in this field in the palm of their hands – apple-sized.

There are other devices suitable for ebooks but they also all have some kind of proprietary nature and problems associated with formats. If you try for a freely available format like PDF you will need further software that will reformat the PDF to be readable, scrollable, page-turnable, to suit your device. Software such as Adobe Digital Editions or Epub. Eyes glazing over now?

So the advantages of ebooks such as: portability, accessibility, immediacy, weight in hands (propability?), screen light, font size, library in your pocket; these advantages seem just out of reach for many. It’s easier to buy the book – if you can find the one you want in print.

Or go to the public library and borrow the book – for FREE! Now there’s an idea!! But chances are the latest new release by your favourite author is out on loan and you will have to reserve it and wait to be notified of its arrival for you. By then you might have bought it, or borrowed it from a friend. It might just be worth the cost of a quick download to your ereader afterall. Immediate gratification is sometimes not met well by public libraries. Whereas if you have your ebook/ereader format and subscription dilemmas sorted then you will be able to download that book you desperately want NOW.

While ebooks are cheaper per unit by comparison to the printed copy, you must factor in the other costs associated with your ebook convenience: the ereader, the internet access, the device plan, the credit card fees, etc.

The notion of the experience being “special” is also worth due consideration. The anticipation of waiting for that particular book is not to be dismissed. If I have immediate access to all and every book I want to read then not only am I swamped with too many things for my mind to manage, but that one special book loses some of its appeal if it is available to me straight away. This is a very fuzzy concept and needs further investigation, but book-lovers will know what I mean I’m sure. It’s like eating chocolate: if you eat it every day then you might get a bit sick of it, and it becomes common place and not the luxury special occasion item that it should be. Immediate impulsive download robs you of any anticipation. You are poorer for it. An article I read recently, “Can the book survive?” in the Good Weekend section of The Age on 15th January 2011, touches on this notion.

Further on in the same article is the idea that the “voice” of the author changes depending on the medium on which the text is being read. The layout of the text on the ereader screen can detract from the potency and importance of that text; while other books are more suited to being read on an ereader. I noticed this too when I read a free copy of Alice in Wonderland complete with old illustrations that I had downloaded onto my ipad. The artistic beauty of the serif-font laid out on the page was missing, and yet the small “original” illustrations were lovely captured on the small screen. This is where the book as beautiful object is most obvious, and in this case, lacking as an ebook.

This idea needs further research and I have the perfect title for a thesis – “The weight of words and how text and meaning are affected by format, display and availability”. Go for it.

So the advantages of ebooks and ereaders are disadvantages also. What they offer us in terms of portability and access robs us of the quality of the experience of reading in some obscure way. The delight of browsing, serendipity of discovery, and being exposed to a broad range of subjects that you might never have considered, amidst the shelves of books, narrows the experience to obtaining just the one book you seek. You might get what you want right now, but not what you don’t know that you might want.

Public libraries are the losers in this battle of the ebook/ereader formats. Publishers have tied up the ebook market into a knot. Ask at a public library if they have ebooks and you will get a bold “Yes” in response, followed by an uncertain “but…” What device? What format? Which book? Sorry but you can’t get fiction FREE in ebook format at a public library for download to your personal device. Well you probably can somewhere, but the latest titles? You will probably be able to easily read an ebook on the library pc or on your home pc if you are a library member. But ebooks mean portability, so what is the point of reading an ebook on your pc? Electronic notebook? Well maybe.

Most librarians will tell you about the many ebook collections available online, such as Project Gutenberg, Safari books, ebooks at the National Library of Australia, the ebooks supplied by Adelaide University, and many more. But this is not answering the problems associated with being able to borrow the latest novel for free from your library, or perhaps buying the ebook outright then being able to pass it on to a friend.

It is too soon for a conclusion of thoughts. These are uncertain times for book lovers. It is still evolving. Optimistically I think that public libraries and freedom of access will prevail. Fearfully I envision half empty shelves with old pre-loved books decomposing and awaiting the arrival of H. George Wells in his Time Machine. (Remember that scene from the classic movie where he is relieved to find the public library only to have the books fall to dust in his hands?)

Ultimately literacy, creative endeavour, the need to express ourselves, the desire to share our ideas, and discover new ones, and the pure and simple love of books as objects will ensure that public libraries continue to be valued as places for community narrative, history, wealth of knowledge, ideas, learning, gathering, sharing and for the free inclusive access for all.