STORY BY AUDREY R. BROWKA | PHOTOS BY ERIC FRICK
is afoot in our
schools, libraries and homes. Tablets, e-readers and iPads are digitally rewriting the centuries-old narrative for the paper volumes we call books. These electronic gadgets are the contemporary homes for an infinite number of literary works, as well as newspapers and magazines, all of which can be downloaded onto a palm-sized piece of hardware faster than you can turn the page of your favorite John Grisham thriller. Some suggest this new technology threatens the very fate of the beloved book. Others say itâ€™s simply the latest chapter in its history.
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A NOVEL CONCEPT
Cookbooks, romance, thrillers and serious fiction are all migrating well into the electronic form, and publishers who concentrate their marketing efforts in these digital genres realize great success. Amazon reported sales of its e-books exceeded sales of print books for the first time in spring 2011.
Digital texts and tablets are likely the greatest innovation to hit the printed word since the 1400s, when Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of movable type enabled the mass production of books on a scale previously unknown. But the book, in the form we know it, dates back to first century A.D., “The commercial trend is certainly an indicator of what’s and was as revolutionary in its time as its digital counterparts to come in the world of scholarly publishing,” says Sisler. are today. Harvard University Press has a 100-year old print “The form of the book most of us use is called the codex,” tradition and publishes upwards of 220 explains Thomas M. Banchich, PhD, chair and professor of quality non-fiction titles in the humanities, classics. “Its immediate ancestor was sets of wax-covered social sciences and the sciences, each year. wooden tablets, used mainly to prepare drafts of what Under Sisler’s leadership, however, the eventually would be copied into papyrus rolls.” prestigious press instituted a secondary publishing model; one that markets scholarly books with popular appeal in the virtual world.
“The Canisius library will always be a place for students to come and do their work.”
The codex transformed the reading experience. It was “compact, portable, durable, and able to store and disseminate significant amounts of information to a degree that the roll could not,” says Banchich. People could easily navigate through text with the literal turn of a page. The codex also lent itself well to paragraphs, chapters, page numbers, tables of contents and indexes. By the second century, “it seems to have become a particularly popular vehicle for the Christian Gospels,” adds Banchich.
“To succeed in the new world of e-books, university publishers must get their books exposed online by optimizing online search engines, using keyword-friendly titles, and utilizing social media, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,” says Sisler. “The idea is to create a community of readers who can converse with authors or other like-minded readers.” Sales of e-books make a minimal impression on the bottom-line at Harvard University Press and account for only two percent of HUP’s $20 million budget. Still, its digital library is comprised of about 1,000 titles, including recent releases as well as backlist treasures. That number increases weekly, says Sisler.
“The publishing industry has been ‘in crisis’ since I started in the business 30 years ago but we’re still here and we’ll Today’s technology shares virtually the same traits as the survive this latest evolution,” says Sisler. “Right now, the market for scholarly e-books is small but it’s expected to codex– and more. grow steadily and HUP is preparing so that it may continue It’s never been easier to buy books, read about books you to bring quality works to a world-wide community of readers, might want to buy or share your favorite reads with friends. in a full range of formats.” What’s more, e-books cost significantly less than their printed counterparts, since paper and ink aren’t involved. No wonder THE PLOT THICKENS sales of digital books are soaring – but at what expense? Surely, the ways in which people consume content shifted, seismically, in the past 20 PRESSED FOR CHANGE years. The Internet is now a go-to resource for E-readers are more cost-effective to consumers. But brick-and- both amateur and scholarly research. If Google mortar stores, slow to adapt to a new business model, are on gets its way, every book ever published will shaky ground. Publishers risk the same fate. be digitized by the next decade and available “The way people of this generation read, what they read in a universal online collection, accessible to and the devices on which they read all affect the future of anyone, anywhere. publishing,” says William P. Sisler ’69, PhD, director of Harvard This catchall of information may seal the University Press (HUP). “These are the issues that keep fate of your neighborhood library, which publishers awake at night.” has endured financial cuts during troubling economic times. But not so fast, says the American
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Library Association, which reports that library visitation and circulation are on the rise, nationwide. Canisius College’s Bouwhuis Library is included in that trend. It experienced a 40 percent increase in attendance over the past five years. “In many ways, libraries are more relevant today than ever,” says Joel A. Cohen, PhD, associate vice president for library and information services. He explains that libraries – academic or otherwise – ensure equal access to information, entertainment and cultural materials, and they do it free-of-charge. Libraries provide professional, non-biased reference services for patrons, and expert assistance with informational materials and formats. At educational institutions, in particular, “libraries play an increasingly central role in the academic and social environments,” adds Cohen. What that role looks like, however, is very different than when you were a student 20, 10 or even five years ago. The quiet building once devoted solely to reading and research, “is now a relaxed collegial learning environment,” says Cohen. Computer clusters replace the card catalogs. Shared work areas take the place of solitary study corrals. And a coffee shop helps to provide what no Internet search engine can: face-to-face connections, communication, collaborations and caffeine. “The sharing of ideas and information between students and faculty is not prohibited in modern libraries. Rather it’s the entire point; to stimulate the intellectual life of campus,” says Cohen. Gone are the days when providing books were a library’s standalone function. Students check out laptops, headphones, microphones and video cameras. They use these digital tools to create multimedia class presentations, and practice those presentations in areas of the library outfitted with state-of-the-art hardware and software. “The Canisius library will always be a place for students to come and do their work, so long as we continue to provide them the tools and the space with which they want to study and learn,” says Kristin Kasbohm, associate director for access services.
“We are in the next chapter of the history of books but it is a chapter filled with both old forms and new ones.” The Bouwhuis Library continues to renovate its space through support from restricted gifts to the Canisius Fund. A Tim Horton’s coffee shop, extended hours and added safety for late-night studying are some of the early changes, already completed. Also in place is one central location for circulation, reference and technology services. This lessened the footprint of the print collection and made more room for what will ultimately be a technology-based learning commons within the library. “Academic libraries must work particularly hard to ensure they remain flexible and vital resource centers,” adds Cohen. “Even if there are fewer books lining the shelves 10 or 20 years from now, there will still be a need and a demand for informational resources and space in what we call a library.” That said, it’s difficult to imagine a time when books become entirely extinct. They are time-tested technology: No instructions are required; no learning curve necessary; and no Internet connection needed. Books stimulate the senses. There is C ANISIUS COLLEGE M AGA ZINE • WINTER/SPRING 2012 |
something nostalgic about their texture, the smell of ink on paper, contemplation. Other professionals believe technology provides new, and the way the spine cracks the first time a book is opened. These are affordable and accessible avenues to learning and literacy. characteristics that even today’s digital natives appreciate. “The pervasive nature of technology means that traditional literacy “We’re not seeing a great demand among students for electronic access methods must adapt and work alongside these popular mediums, not against them because they’re not going anywhere,” says Mary E. Shea to books – academic or otherwise – at least not yet,” says Cohen. MSEd ’87, PhD, director of graduate literacy programs at Canisius and Scholarly publishers fist offered electronic versions of their books the author of the new book Parallel Learning of Reading and Writing in several years ago. Apple Inc. now sells electronic versions of some Early Childhood (page 11). standard high school books. But PCs are too cumbersome to be considered good e-book readers for students. Smaller electronic Books and technology are collective learning tools in the college’s tablets, similar to the iPad, are the ideal but “the hardware is not to Literacy Center. The center trains literacy specialists and provides the point where it’s suitable for formatting, page manipulation and literacy education to struggling young readers and writers in the searching,” explains Cohen. Then there are issues related to cost and community; many of whom do not have access to computer technology. One recent exercise required a group of eighth grade girls from intellectual property. NativityMiguel Middle School to produce a video on the Fine Arts Still, Cohen predicts that the market will force resolution of these Department. issues. When that happens, students will use electronic tablets to store digital textbooks and scholarly works; record their professors’ lectures; “Everything in this lesson was literacy-related,” explains Rosemary take notes in class; and write their papers. Essentially, students will K. Murray, PhD, chair and associate professor of graduate education and leadership and director of the Literacy Center. “It involved reading, manage all their academic needs from the palms of their hands. writing, listening and visualizing. Students then used technology to Even the most conventional of educators agree that both traditional communicate what they learned.” print and modern technology are needed to pursue truthful scholarship. Such digital creations are an example of how multimedia is on its way to “We are in the next chapter of the history of books but it is a chapter becoming an educational requirement rather than an elective. If used filled with both old forms and new ones,” says Banchich, who edits and effectively, the technology provides yet another way for educators to translates ancient – oftentimes fragmented – manuscripts of Greek teach and students to learn comprehension and communication skills. and Latin authors and historians. “I can’t do the work I do without the technology made available through the computer,” adds Banchich. “I “Today’s children grow up alongside technology,” says Shea. “It’s where also can’t do my research without having five or six books open and in their enthusiasm lies so if we capitalize on that, perhaps we can motivate more children to read, and that’s what is most important.” front of me at the same time.”
WHITHER THE WRITTEN WORD?
READING THE FUTURE
Perhaps the question isn’t which format people prefer but whether So while no one can read the future, a few things are somewhat predictable. The printed book will likely hold a special place in society they read at all. for generations to come. (Live theater continues to thrive well after The book was a common form of entertainment, well before radio and the advent of cinema. The radio endures alongside the iPod.) And the television came on the scene. Even after, books continued to be a source exercise of reading will always remain a quiet, solitary engagement of enjoyment for millions of Americans. But the dawn of computers between you and the text, whether that text is printed on paper or triggered a passionate debate about what it means to read and write appears on a screen. In the end, a good story can transport you to in the digital age. Some research suggests that new technologies chip another time and place. When that happens, the physical object in our away at children’s literacy, and their capacity for concentration and hands doesn’t seem to matter so much now does it?
“The way people of this generation read, what they read and the devices on which they read all affect the future of publishing.”
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