Now a personal library is something that resides on a computer server somewhere, accessed through your Amazon account. You can sell your house and traipse across the country or overseas, but all that changes is the IP address from which you access your “library.” The books do not become dog-eared, they are never misfiled. A guest in your home will no longer note that Gibbon or Boswell lies next to your easy chair. If someone wants to know who you are through your books, the place to look is GoodReads and LibraryThing. The printed book is aware of the passage of time.
Reducing the size of my personal library made me aware that I had probably bought my last new print book. There may be exceptions to this, as when I purchase a gift for someone, but otherwise my new books will be e-books. Used books are a different matter, though, as the pleasure of browsing is something I will not give up until the last bookstore closes.
This piece perfectly sums up my feelings regarding CDs and vinyl in 2002.
It was the height of Napster and MP3 playing CD Walkmen, digital music was beginning to deliver benefits to those willing to experiment. Spindles of concert bootlegs and rare tracks archived on CD-Rs filled my shelves, but I still regularly bought, packed, and moved mounds of CDs and vinyl. When visiting a new city, one of my first stops was the local record store. Like Esposito, I subconsciously pruned what was on display. Our books and music were an indirect statement about ourselves. I never thought I’d give it up.
Records, or books, function as meta communication: the medium itself communicates with and connects you to a community of like minded people. A collection is an external manifestation of how you view yourself, often times clarifying your identity in a way unknown to even you.
But digital is too easy. Not just for purchasing and managing content, but also for interacting with a community of like minds.
One of the core features of the Internet is the ability to participate with passionate, specialized communities with relatively little investment. Entire afternoons don’t need to be spent getting to and from used stores to burying yourself in records. We can acquire similar knowledge and discussion from wherever we are in the spare minutes spent in line, in transit, or stolen between meetings. Contribution is easier too: when you’re able to release an album without pressing a physical object or negotiating with a label, content comes faster.
With this system we do lose things. I miss rarity. I miss the moment when you find something for which you’ve been searching. Collecting too, has lost it’s luster. We build up private caches, but with music and books it’s becoming easier to rely on on-demand external sources. There’s more noise too. With more producers comes more good music, but even more medicore music. What Espisioto misses is the explicit statement a full bookshelf makes.
But I’ll gladly trade rarity and collecting for increased volume, vibrancy, and access to communities. I hope as more readers make the shift to digital we’ll see a similar rise in independent publishing like we did in music. It’s still shocking to me how nascent the idea of an indie writer remains.