Saturday, July 10, 2010

Here’s What I’m Talking About

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but I just experienced an amazing piece of writing that could only have happened in the digital age.

I often post that books and digital ereaders or websites should not be compared in an either / or paradigm. I still believe that. And as a librarian, with the appropriate ALA certified graduate degree (MLIS, University of Alabama 2009) I am a strong believer in the idea that books can and do enrich mine or others lives. But sometimes online reading does things that a physical book cannot. And it does not matter how durable, portable and accessible a physical book is; because the work by its very nature is static and finite. Notice I said “work” not the ideas or concepts found within the book. Whatever is between the covers once it is published is all there is going to be. And that limitation is where a physical book ends and where virtual reading starts.

Here is what happened to me the other morning:

I was reading the electronic edition of the New York Times and saw a simple one line storyline in a sidebar, A History Lesson From An Errant Tombstone. “Okay” I thought, “I’ll bite.” I clicked the link and was sent to the City Room which is a blog written by Andy Newman. I read the post and then followed a link to the complete story: Tombstone on Sidewalk Leads to a History Lesson, here is a link to that article:

I strongly encourage you to click the link above and read the article yourself. I was completely taken by the story, the characters involved and the historical significance of the individuals written about.

But the story itself is not what I really wanted to post about today. What I want to post here is how incredible it is that I was able to come across the blog post in the first place, follow the digital trail to the complete article and then inform you about it. This is something that a physical book, magazine or newspaper simply cannot do. You can have footnotes, you can have references and you can add pages of appendixes. But all of that added content is limited. Nor can you easily edit or update and then publish as you can in a virtual domain.

Here is another aspect: when I clicked on the initial link I was sent to a blog. As we all know blogs simply didn’t exist fifteen years ago. It is a form of writing that originated from a digital / virtual setting. Without the web we won’t have blogs. Without the blog I might never have seen the article.

In addition the article had a multi-media component to it. Along with the article I saw photographs, a slide show and a PDF document. I could enlarge the photos. I could save the photos on my computer. I could zoom in on the PDF document so that it was easier for me to read. I could rollover the PDF to investigate different parts for myself. I could save the PDF electronically if I choose to. I could do all these things and more. None of which I can do with a traditional book.

Here is one last thought. I can also make the article and all of it’s contents available to you, for free at the SLFL, instantaneously. Or you can access this blog and the article on your home or work computer, Blackberry, mobile device or cell phone. This blog is published and available worldwide. Where a traditional book stops the digital world starts; digital domains extend all of the attributes of a traditional book and then goes beyond to the limits of our curiosity and immagination. And when it does it is readers, people like you and me, who benefit.

See you at the Library,

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