Book fairs are among my favourite events because they bring together those who love the world of written word. Book fairs take their name from a particular format of sharing the written word and it may be a bit of a paradox to be invited to give a talk on digital content at such an event. Of course, the books entered the digital world a long time ago and we had seen many a discussion on the future of the book with predictions ranging from books’ demise to books’ renaissance. The reality shows that the idea what a book is and what one does with a book evolve in the digital world.
The International Book Fair at Thessaloniki contributed to the debate on the books and the impact of the digital technologies via an international panel discussion which was chaired by Ms Tonia Arahova, President-Elect of IFLA for 2021-2023 and President of the General Council for Libraries at the Greek Ministry of Education. The panel received a warm welcome by Nikos Kukis, the President of Hellenic Cultural Foundation who emphasized the need for libraries, publishers and academic institutions to collaborate more. Speakers sharing their points of view included Prof. Sarantos Kapidakis from the University of West Attica, the publisher Periclis Douvitsas and myself.
In my talk I looked at the relationship between book and digital, very much in line with my work within the DISTILL project, and the role of the aggregators of digital cultural content on the example of Europeana.
If we were to compare what is similar and different between the book as a mean and the digital media we use today, one aspect stands out. If we take the case of digitized books, their simplest manifestation is the digitized version of the original book be it as a set of images of the pages, a reentered text or a combination of both.
Here we can discuss extensively the convenience (or the lack of it) of reading on screen but we can also explore how reading becomes a different process with the possibilities the digital medium brings to the stage. Depending on the tools we use, we can search for words or phrases, do different types of analysis of the contents, take notes, copy quotes, compare texts for resemblance. We have great new tools to visualise – I included some examples I love in my slides. Reading complemented with these opportunities looks more like a dissection of the text rather than savouring it.
We are also changing the reading habits from going from the first to the last page to snippet reading.
The addition of tools that allow us to locate and use parts of a book could possibly be seen as getting a digital microscope because we can explore in different ways details from the content. Would this be happenning without the digital tools? Definitely not in this same extent we see it now.
But we also have telescopes in the digital space. For several decades many distinguished minds are exploring what does it mean to have millions of digitized books and how this changes our relationship with the written text. I will write soon a separate post on this topic.
There are some examples of micro- and tele-scopic exploration in the slides from the event.
And here is a thing. Reading is not only about exploring, learning, discovering and sharing new information, but also about enjoyment. How digital helps there is yet another avenue to discuss.