“What really worries me, most of all, is, it’s not writers, it’s readers, because this whole crap about ‘It’s Gutenberg.’ You know, the thing is, that Gutenberg put books on the shelves, the digital revolution is gonna take books off the shelves. So how’re you gonna find them, if you don’t know what you’re looking for?” —Jeanette Winterson on The Review Show at the Edinburgh Festival: Part 2 broadcast on BBC2 20/08/2010
This comment on The Review Show really annoyed me. It has annoyed me so much that I knew I had to blog about it. I don’t know what Winterson is trying to say about readers. If she is trying to allude to the fact that they are feeble, lazy, or are easily swayed by fads then I am afraid she has largely missed the downfall of all humanity. She has walked through the twentieth century blinkered. We have always been easily led, coaxed into things and have always had a desire for things that we do not have. Food. Shelter. Sex. We want them but there is food and there is food, there is shelter and there is shelter and there is sex and then there is sex.
The idea that libraries or bookshops provide guidance for readers is largely a misrepresentation and is a narrow view of the whole industry. Bookshops sell, they seek to make profits. Libraries do so much more, and the Kindle, e-books, the digital world will be part of their remit. It may in the long run for them cut storage costs and allow them to be a universal houses of learning with readers from across the world.
Libraries will become the home of virtual books (it’s already happened, Jstor etc). Libraries themselves may become virtual but there will always be a librarian. There will always be someone there to guide you. If not, word of mouth, will always be more of a powerful tool than any hype.
Personally, I don’t think libraries will vanish, they have always been more than just books, they have been community hubs, places of learning, places to share ideas and listening to writers, readers, groups and individuals.
Whilst humanity seeks to connect with others, for food, for shelter, for sex, libraries will continue. We all want to talk, we all want to share our passion and reading is a passion. Kindle is one part of the future, the digital landscape is wider than Winterson can even imagine and even this revolution will be firmly rooted in the physical world.
Stop the scaremongering, embrace all aspects of publishing and reading.
I’d like to hear your views on this as I know it has brought many people off the fence as it was such a throwaway, ill conceived comment.