Thursday, October 27, 2011

Memory and Storage

Whenever I envision my dream home, it has a library in it. In my mind's eye, it always had two levels with a rolling ladder and great windows targeting the light on a couple of overstuffed chairs accompanied by an ottoman. I didn't really need a fireplace, though I suppose it could be kinda keen. And then I made my first trip to the Biltmore House in Asheville, and I found the library I wanted….( Granted, as I got older, I realized I would never have enough books to fill that magnificent space, but it was a target. Now I see something a little more modest but still downright comfortable as being more practical ( - how cool is this Beautiful Libraries Web site??).

But in the past 18 months or so, I've been thinking really hard about technology and libraries. It's a cold hard fact—though I have hundreds of books now (and more than thirty long boxes of comics), unless a miracle happens, I will not have an heir to inherit them and enjoy them as I have. Instead, they will become a discouraging weight that will have to be boxed up and moved when I move, eventually becoming a burden to whomever has to make final decisions about their disposition.

And so I'm pondering the unthinkable, moving to an electronic format for my books and comics. It's been a big hurdle for me, in good part because I really like the sensations that go with reading—the smell of aged paper and the feel of it against my fingertips as I turn actual pages. But there have been other issues that I've been considering as well. For instance, just how good are the graphics on whatever tool I would be using? It seemed to me to defeat the purpose of putting comics on a device if I couldn't appreciate the art. And related to that, I also read books about art, and how would those look on an e-reader of some kind? But I recently had a friend with in iPad install Comixology, the most popular comics reader, and we did some tests. I'll be honest—the art was fantastically reproduced, and I really liked that I could zoom in on panels and images to get a better feel for them. So that concern was set aside and I had visions of saving a chunk of money a month by being able to get rid of my storage unit where my back issues of comics sit. Or at the very least, perhaps not continuing to add to what is already in there.

Another issue I had to consider is that I don't only buy and read books that are coming out, but also books that have been out for some time, even decades. And while buying new books in an e-format would address some of my storage concerns, I might never be able to find a lot of books that I enjoy now, that I get from Web sites like Paperback Swap and used bookstores. And then, there was an announcement last summer that just excited me no end. Hachette UK, under their Orion Publishing Group imprint, was going to open a Web site they named SF Gateway, in which they would make available not only their excellent series of Science Fiction and Fantasy Masterworks but attempt to recover out-of-print books as well. As they say themselves:

The SF Gateway was established specifically to rescue classic SF & Fantasy titles from their mostly-out-of-print status and make them available again to a wider audience. Their are [sic] many sites and publishers whose raison d'ĂȘtre is to facilitate the eBook publication of new and/or self-published authors, and it is not in our plans to join them. (

How awesome is that? A sort of back library of books, available in e-format! While it would not meet all of my needs, it was a fantastic start. As soon as the Web site officially opened, I went and poked around. They already have a great list of titles, and their plans to go deeper and broader just thrilled me. And then, I dug just a smidge deeper—trying to see what the prices were like, I clicked on a book, only to find that it wasn't available to the US. I tried a few more with the same result. And then I poked around on their Web site some more and found this:

We have acquired rights to the SF Gateway titles from the authors or their estates, and in many cases the rights they were willing or able to grant us were only for the UK and Commonwealth countries (excluding Canada, which is usually bundled with USA rights). It's not that we don't want to allow you to buy the books; it's outside the terms of our contracts.

However, there are many titles - approximately one-third - in which we have World English Rights, and these will be available everywhere, subject to retailers' ability to sell them.

And so my enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat as I hope that someone in the US has thought to do the same kind of thing, but it seems that the technology has begun the process that will allay my concern. So the only thing left is the part of the process that will take me the longest, figuring out what tool to use. And even though I am huge fan of science fiction, with its emphasis on gadgets, I'm still astounded at the kind of decision I am about to make. To top it off, I read this week where SD cards, those little things I put in my first digital cameras, are likely to have a 1 terabyte (1000GB or 1000000MB) capacity by 2014. A library in a piece of plastic small enough to get lost in the palm of my hand! And yet, no one is offering me a jet pack yet.

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