Why collect books in the digital age, and three reasons why print hasn’t died

For a long time now, the demise of print culture has been predicted; just as DVDs were said to kill cinema, and video was supposed to be murdering radio, many have supposed that books are both literally and metaphorically being eaten away by silverfish, not often touched by human hands.

But in this video, Susan Thomas, a curator at The University of Melbourne, takes us inside one of the rare books rooms at the university and reminds us why it’s still worth collecting books, both rare and commonplace. The rooms are closed to the public, but every now and then a glimpse into a place like this reminds students like myself – students studying arts and publishing – that there’s a vivid world of print that lives on through the ages and through circumstances that could easily have destroyed them (according to Susan, some of the books in the university’s collection have been on sea voyages and still bear the physical marks of their trip!).

As many editing students will know, there’s a common misconception that there are no jobs in editing and that publishing is a terribly chancy business to consider. So, in the interests of keeping things in perspective, here are three things to keep in mind when you encounter predictions about the demise of print culture:

  • Not everything suits a screen: long-form journalism, for example, doesn’t always suit the internet, and is often published successfully in magazines and literary journals. This is not only because of how many people access the internet through mobile devices, on-the-go and in a hurry, but also because of how difficult it is to read a screen for long periods of time.
  • Overabundance: the internet is extremely vast and sometimes it’s reassuring to hold a finite object in your hands, with no pop-ups or hyperlinks to distract you. Many people read precisely to escape the noise of the internet, so print books will always have a future in their hands.
  • Practicality: you don’t have to charge a book, update its software, or be too worried when you drop it. While the Kindle might have the upper hand in terms of book selection – you don’t have to special-order out-of-print titles from a specialist book retailer – the printed book has the advantage here.



Many thanks to Susan Thomas at the Rare Books Collection, The University of Melbourne.

Music: ‘Naive’ by Sergey Cheremisinov accessible here under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial licence.


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