“Books are changing,” she said, “but I don’t see them being replaced.”
She sees technology and physical books evolving side by side to complement one another. And as people can get things more readily online, she sees more value put on physical objects.
Kate Barber is a book artist and bookbinder, member of the Book Workers Guild and publications assistant at WCMA. As the liason in charge of the Publication Studio, she has spent the fall and winter making books and showing people from the inside out how books are made.
Digital books may have advantages for research, she said, as more people can get access to more books and can search the text. Digital books may also be accessible to people who cannot easily read books on paper, including Barber’s mother.
But digital books raise questions of ownership. A physical library will not vanish because a corporation gets into a copyright dispute, because Amazon pushes a button or because the power goes out. And for an artist, digital texts have limitations.
“There’s an art and craft to physical objects you can’t produce digitally,” she said. She can see her own art books online, but the experience of reading them is not the same.
She knows artists who do make books for e-readers, she said, but she finds richness in the physical works, the craft in them, the textures and the materials. She makes her own paper.
“It’s difficult to get away from the codex,” said Wayne Hammond, assistant Chapin librarian at Williams.
Even online, it appears in digital form, he said. Ideas of proportion and legibility developed centuries ago and carried over into printing.
Barber has found those ideas holding firm even in younger generations of readers who have grown up with digital alternatives as a given.
In the Publication Studio, students of all ages have been excited about making their own books, she said — working wtih the equipment, seeing how it’s done and watching theor book become an object. School-age children, fifth-graders making journals and olders students who have all grown up in a digital world have all seemed to feel that a project was not fully real until they had a book in their hands, she said.
Publication Studio has both digital and physical copies of the books made with their presses, she said. She has an iPad loaded with almost 200 Publication Studio materials and often has students look at them both digitally and on paper, to talk about how the medium affects their reading.
She finds a difference in her own.
“There’s a time and space books employ,” she said, “and losing it affects how I translate what I’m reading.”
In reading a book she paces herself by the turning of a page, and the constant speed seems to affect her concentration and ability to sink into a text and think concretely about it.
In print and online, writers themselves keep a different pace.
A book burrows deep into its content, she said. On the web, content comes in short stretches.
Hyperlinks can create a matrix or network of intormation. She takes notes online now so she can hyperlink them, and she has seen digital textbooks with embedded video and links.
She finds them useful, but at a cost. Hyperlinks break concentration — a reader constantly has to choose whether to read one narrative or move to another.
Wayne Hammond agreed that digital resources can do more, in-depth and low-cost, than print resources — and that print resources can in other ways do more than digital ones.
The brain works in a different way when people read online, he said. Some people look at a paragraph and think it’s too long.
A webinar she recently attended encouraged Christine Menard, head of research services and library outreach at Williams College’sSawyer Library, to write at a seventh-grade level for an adult audience. She did not find this assessment encouraging.
“I’m reading two biographies now,” Hammond said, “one written at that level and one clearly not — it uses words like ‘perduring.’ They’re accurate, precise and unusual. If you never expose people to hard words, they will never learn them.”