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Reading….Who has the time? February 9, 2007

Posted by Stephanie McReynolds in Library Stuff.

As part of The Big Read, Washington University professor Steven Zwicker discussed “The Future of the Book” at the University City Library on Wednesday.

Zwicker’s main points:


  • The keyword search feature made possible by machine readable text saves people a lot of time that, in years past, would have been spent in “wading through” or actually reading books and journal articles.


  • While the reader saves time by using keyword search, she also misses out on the possibility of true discovery. When you search you use the terms you already know. But when you read, you absorb the context and make connections that may lead you to what you do not know. You cannot keyword search for the unexpected.


  • Keyword search is inimical to the book because its use deconstructs the book.The carefully constructed sentences and structure of paragraphs, headings, and chapters are irrelevant. To quote Zwicker, “We are no longer subject to the tyranny of the book or the author.”

He opened up the discussion by asking, “Once we can scan and keyword search nearly any text, is anyone going to read again? In other words, what happens to reading when putting things on dead trees becomes obsolete?

The discussion was quite lively, considering there were fewer than 20 people in the room.

Here are a few random quotes from the audience:

“I don’t think books will disappear because there is still an emotional attachment to books. Parents still share books with their children that were childhood favorites of their own. So, children are learning to love books.”

“What if everything is digitized and there are very few paper books? Wouldn’t it be easier revise and censor what is online if you don’t have the original book to compare it to?

Technology will go forward no matter how we feel about it. It is unstoppable.”

“No matter how far the technology advances, no one will take a computer to the bathroom to read. Books and magazines are just too convenient. You can read them anywhere.”

“We’ve got to remember that most people are not avid readers. They will get more out of digitization because it is easier to search and find information quickly. The impact of digitization on reading matters to us, but to most people it is a non-issue.”

Not everyone has a computer. Many of us do not have access to thousands of books from home.”

What does this mean for humanity? Is this going to improve humanity? Will it bring us closer and help us to communicate better with each other? We’ve got to think about whether or not this is good for us.”

Great comments. Any thoughts?

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” –Ray Bradbury




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