Guest Post: The Future of a Book Collection

by Kim on July 16, 2010 · 21 comments

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This is a guest post from Amanda Ochsner, a good English nerd friend from college, future roommate, and avid gamer and journalist. This fall, Amanda will be starting a graduate program here in Madison where she’ll be studying video games and learning. In this post, Amanda is talking about a recent conundrum she came across related to her book future. Enjoy!

Last Saturday morning I groggily stumbled into a bit of a mini-crisis concerning books. I had decided to buy two books — Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell and Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do by Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson.

I discovered that in a coincidence of bargain pricing, these two books purchased in their hardcover or Kindle editions would come out to be almost exactly the same price. This gave me pause. Soon my mind had blown this seemingly simple Saturday morning book decision into a philosophical self-discussion about my future with books.

This rare case of similar pricing — usually the electronic editions of books are cheaper — led me to consider, if all other things are equal, in what format do I prefer to own books?

It turned out that answering this question was not easy. What I needed was my friend, future roommate, and creator of this amazing blog, Kim, but she was up at her family’s cabin having a “totally unplugged weekend.”

I decided to make a list. In it I outlined the advantages of choosing the electronic versions versus the argument for hardcovers. Among the benefits of choosing electronic version were being able to do a word search of the text, having instant access to definitions, being able to access the text from my computer or phone, and of course never having to carry around those heavy hardcovers or pack them in moving boxes. August will bring my seventh year in a row of moving, and as someone who owns a ridiculous number of books, this is a task I look upon with a bit more displeasure each year.

Next was the argument for hardcovers. I’ll admit that one of the biggest reasons to lean in this direction was that I already own quite a few books on video games and they look quite pretty together on my bookshelves. The thought of adding a few more was not unwelcome. Also, I still find that it is more time effective for me to flip through hard copies of books to find sections that I have highlighted as opposed to searching my digital highlights. I still struggle with getting a spatial grasp of digital texts and I miss having page numbers sometimes.

However, the most compelling argument for getting the hardcovers was a lingering sense of uncertainty about the future of my book collection. I know that in ten years I will have kept at least portions of my hard copy book collection, and since these particular books are related to my professional life, I have no doubt that these titles will be among those that I will have kept. I am also quite certain that in ten years I will have a substantial digital book collection. But what I don’t know is how that collection will be organized and if I will be able to have my digital library in one place or on one device. The e-book space is new, and while I am currently a Kindle owner, I cannot profess a lasting loyalty to Amazon so early in the life of e-books.

I ultimately purchased the hardcovers. This decision did not come easy to me and even after I decided how to buy these two books that were seemingly symbolic of a much greater issue, I do not feel that I have come close to solving said issue for myself. I held one of those hardcovers in hand last night with a yellow highlighter and found that I was still questioning my choice.

While the hard copy vs. digital book issue is one that may lead to these little mini-crises, I find that I am actually quite excited to see where all of these new reading technologies are headed. I love my Kindle. I love being able to read news feeds and online articles on my phone even more. And I am quite certain that there are technologies coming out in the future that I’m going to positively adore. So bring it on, technology. The hard copies may have won this time, but I’m sure you’ve got something coming that will make me change my mind.

Thanks to Amanda for an awesome guest post! What do you think is the future of your book collection?

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan via Flickr

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