Monday, June 20, 2011

Sit Down For This One

I heartily endorse the useful advice of J on A Librarian's Guide to Etiquette:

Librarians should militantly enforce the “pushing in” of recently vacated public chairs in their libraries. As you make your rounds through the library, forcefully bump the chairs against the tables as a passive aggressive warning of your quiet rage for any future potential violators.

I don't really do this in my library, but I may need to start. Anything that warns of my quiet rage for future potential violators is a good thing. The people need to know!

I also endorse the curiosity of Paul Levy at Not Running a Hospital, who wonders "Will books someday be works in progress?" He's referring to the fact that, with ebook purchases, one could theoretically buy a book, and then have it automatically updated on your reader to reflect changes made by the author. He compares this to a software update, something that you get to make sure the content is up to date, and it's easy to see how this could be useful for informational material that loses value over time.

A constantly updating encyclopedia, or a guide to New York City, could be very handy, especially if it involved no or minimal charges. Rather than buy a whole new book, just pay a couple of dollars to have the updates integrated.

On the other hand, theoretically, you could also have your book updated to reflect changes made by editors in response to threats of lawsuits, or something. Let's imagine a truly awe-inspiring scandal that prompts a recall of certain information that you purchased, by that could be removed from your book after the fact.

Nobody likes the idea of paying for something and then getting it taken away.

I guess the crucial thing here would be that you should be able to decide if you want to accept the updates or not. Much like software, they could send you a little message saying "an update is available for your book The Awe-Inspiring Scandal Encyclopedia: New York City Edition. Would you like to accept these changes?"

And then you could review the proposed updates and say yes or no. Maybe even accept some while refusing others ("I liked this part better when it was that dude and the ostrich"). It could become not so much a software update as a collaborative editing process.

Of course, then you would have bunches of people running around with their own slightly different versions of what would in some sense be the same book, since it would have a single uniform title, but would in another sense be a bunch of personalized editions, since the actual text might vary widely.

The Awe-Inspiring Scandal Encyclopedia: New York City, Adeline Hoopstine Edition. Citing these as sources gets really interesting.

Once again we stare into the terrifyingly mutable face of the electronic book. We shiver in trepidation, but we cannot turn away.

So keep shoving those chairs in, everyone. At least they're solid.



jtfburgess said...

Have you read this post over at The Technium? It deals with electronic books, and the holistic process of "booking". It relates to your idea of selective versioning of books and adds persistent user contributions as well.

I rather like the idea of being able to "screen" artistic content for free, but having to pay for the notes and comments of experts and beautiful thinkers. Maybe artists would be paid not for distributing their art, but for the secondary right to sell derivative annotations. Hmmm.

A'Llyn said...

That is pretty interesting! I'm a bit skeptical of 'book' as a verb, but I've learned to live with the evidence of mutable language before. And the idea of the ongoing process is fascinating.

It will also be interesting to see if we start to get new kinds of stories and writing, if things are presented with the intention of stimulating this type of interaction...will some people continue to produce "stand-alone" work, while some produce works that really don't amount to much on their own, but take on new depth when others begin to participate by adding their own notes?

Some people are still personally "writing" a book, while others are more "facilitating" the development of one?