The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 23, June 4, 2006, Article 22


E-Sylum subscribers Harry Waterson and Dick Johnson pointed
out a great article in the May 14, 2006 issue of the New York
Times Magazine titled "What Will Happen to Books?"  It's a long
and detailed article, a fascinating read.  As someone who’s been
around the Internet since before it was even called that, the
possibilities of digital publishing are something I've been
aware of for years, but the implications aren't obvious.  This
article does a great job of painting a picture of the future
of books, and how the interconnection of online knowledge will
change our world.

The article mentions CMU Professor Raj Reddy and his "Million
Book" project, which we've discussed here before.  I used to
work for Raj and he's an amazing individual.

"In 2004, he borrowed 30,000 volumes from the storage rooms of
the Carnegie Mellon library and the Carnegie Library and packed
them off to China in a single shipping container to be scanned
by an assembly line of workers paid by the Chinese. His project,
which he calls the Million Book Project, is churning out 100,000
pages per day at 20 scanning stations in India and China. Reddy
hopes to reach a million digitized books in two years.

The idea is to seed the bookless developing world with easily
available texts."

"In several dozen nondescript office buildings around the world,
thousands of hourly workers bend over table-top scanners and haul
dusty books into high-tech scanning booths. They are assembling
the universal library page by page.

The dream is an old one: to have in one place all knowledge,
past and present. All books, all documents, all conceptual works,
in all languages. It is a familiar hope, in part because long ago
we briefly built such a library. The great library at Alexandria,
constructed around 300 B.C., was designed to hold all the scrolls
circulating in the known world...

Since then, the constant expansion of information has overwhelmed
our capacity to contain it. For 2,000 years, the universal library,
together with other perennial longings like invisibility cloaks,
antigravity shoes and paperless offices, has been a mythical dream
that kept receding further into the infinite future.

Until now."

"Corporations and libraries around the world are now scanning about
a million books per year. Amazon has digitized several hundred
thousand contemporary books. In the heart of Silicon Valley,
Stanford University (one of the five libraries collaborating with
Google) is scanning its eight-million-book collection using a
state-of-the art robot from the Swiss company 4DigitalBooks.

This machine, the size of a small S.U.V., automatically turns
the pages of each book as it scans it, at the rate of 1,000 pages
per hour. A human operator places a book in a flat carriage, and
then pneumatic robot fingers flip the pages — delicately enough
to handle rare volumes — under the scanning eyes of digital cameras."

"The least important, but most discussed, aspects of digital
reading have been these contentious questions: Will we give up
the highly evolved technology of ink on paper and instead read on
cumbersome machines? Or will we keep reading our paperbacks on
the beach? For now, the answer is yes to both."

"Once a book has been integrated into the new expanded library by
means of this linking, its text will no longer be separate from
the text in other books. For instance, today a serious nonfiction
book will usually have a bibliography and some kind of footnotes.
When books are deeply linked, you'll be able to click on the title
in any bibliography or any footnote and find the actual book
referred to in the footnote."

"The static world of book knowledge is about to be transformed
by the same elevation of relationships, as each page in a book
discovers other pages and other books. Once text is digital,
books seep out of their bindings and weave themselves together.
The collective intelligence of a library allows us to see things
we can't see in a single, isolated book."

To read the complete article, see: Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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