In a world where e-readers and electronic books are all the rage and where so many are so certain or afraid that print books will become obsolete, a phenomenon, begun in Hudson, Wisconsin, has challenged the potential extinction of print. Todd Bol began a private library in a box in his front yard for anyone to exchange a book from, and his idea has taken off. In three years, these little libraries have grown to cover twenty-eight states and six countries. (See original article.)
What does this say about the eBook?
For all many e-readers offer a share feature, sharing is much more difficult. One must know the other person, usually the email address that their e-reader is linked to, and can only share for a limited period of time. Just to let someone borrow a book, it’s a lot of effort. For this alone, print books are much easier to exchange. They can be passed from hand to hand, library box to library box, or dropped in the mail to a friend. There are no time limits, unless you impose one, and they don’t require that the other person have the same form of e-reader as you.
But I think there’s another underlying element that makes print books more communal. As the story with Todd Bol illustrates, a print book provides easier opportunities for human communication. A Kindle or Nook looks basically the same whether you’re reading Great Expectations, Harry Potter, or one of the Dresden Files. No one can see what you’re reading. On one needs care. But think about the number of times you’ve been sitting in a doctor’s office or on an airplane and had a conversation start because someone was interested in your book or you were interested in theirs. It has happened to me a number of times. Unless you hide the cover, it’s obvious to those around you and can spark interest, free advertising for the author, and a potentially satisfying conversation.
As part of this, print books provide something eBooks will probably never have: face-to-face interaction. Whether it’s the bookstore employee, the grocery store cashier, the person next to you in line, or your neighbor who has one of those little library boxes, print books often require human interaction. EBooks can be and often are found, bought, and read without ever once exchanging even a greeting with another human being.
Humans crave interaction with humans. We are social creatures, and in today’s world, we have less opportunity to participate in face-to-face social interactions. We must wade through computerized voice systems when we call the bank or pay a bill over the phone. We have ATMs, self-checkout, online stores, and so forth and so on. We rarely know our neighbors and often must travel notable distances to see our friends. In this world of human remoteness, we desperately need interaction with our own species, and Todd Bol has proven that print books are a successful means of acquiring that.
What do you think? If you had one of these little libraries in your area, would it encourage you to get to know your neighbors or at least the person who put up the library? Would you participate?