Book as Object

“This is crucial, the fact that a book is a thing, physically there, durable, indefinitely reuseable, an object of value.”

The quote above is from page 38 of “Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading,” by Ursula K. Le Guin in Harper’s Magazine (Vol. 316, No. 1983, February 2008, p. 33-38), and it speaks to the issue of materiality for digitization. Digital initiatives have rightfully focused on access to book contents, or access to information. Given the technological limitations for even this, with the difficulties from copyright and costs of mass digitization, access to information has been a lofty goal alone. Now however, with ever-increasing screen sizes and touch screens entering popular use through the MacAir, iPhone, Nintendo DS, and others, the object-ness of the book must be further considered.

In Evocative Objects, Sherry Turkle explains “We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with” (5) and this love includes the object of the book. The design of an interface impacts its usability based on the way the user feels about the interface. Donald Norman has shown that people find “prettier” interfaces easier to use, so the interface is also a consideration in working through to a means for representing the book-as-object in a digital form. I don’t have any easy answers for how to best go about this representation, but I’m working on it for my upcoming presentation at the University of Florida’s Comics Conference, and I hope to post more about it soon. In the meantime, I’m considering the object qualities of digitized comics, the interface(s) in which they are represented, and the relation of digital libraries and museums in terms of needs and problems for showing the qualities of objects and addressing the users’ desires for those object-qualities.