Booking Through Thursday asks:

I was reading the other day a quote from JFK Jr who said on the death of his mother, that she died surrounded by family, friends, and her books. Apparently, Jackie’s books were very much a part of HER, her personality, her sense of self.

Up until recently, people could browse your bookshelves and learn a lot about you–what your interests are, your range of topics, favorite authors, how much you read (or at least buy books).

More and more, though, this is changing. People aren’t buying books so much as borrowing them from the library. Or reading them on their e-readers or computers. There’s nothing PHYSICAL on the shelves to tell strangers in your home, for better or worse, who you ARE.

Do you think this is a good thing? Bad? Discuss!

Anyone who would dare set foot in La Casa De Los Replicantes would soon find themselves confronted with several bookshelves stuffed with a strange variety of books, all carefully arranged to portray their owner just so. “Here’s an eclectic person,” one would be led to think. “A multfacted and complex individual! With many interests we either share in common or that I wish to inquire upon further!”

Sadly, of those who dare visit, fewer still are interested in browsing the library. Most of those who have been both privileged enough and interested enough to view it already had a pretty good idea of what would be found there. Browsing the shelves was no huge revelation.

There are now many other ways to share this sort of glimpse into one’s interests and knowledge. For example, LibraryThing allows you to display your library to anyone on the Internet, and not just what you read, but what you thought of it. StumbleUpon allows you to do the same thing, but with Web pages. There is also, so I hear, this Facebook thing, which apparently exists for this very purpose. Or to be a targeted marketing machine. One or both of those. Maybe just one.

Anyway, as for the thought that people aren’t buying books any more, that might be true. For example, the last book I bought was… was… surely it couldn’t have been Machine of Death, could it? That was back in October! Unfortunately, the reason that people aren’t buying books is probably not the economy, but is more likely that people are reading less. Why, I myself haven’t finished a book in months, ever since I got my Droid with its actually usable web browser, and Twitter, and e-mail, et cetera, et cetera. If it was also an e-book reader, it would be perfect.

But that raises another point, one that the personal library has in its favor. I remember reading about one early e-book adopter who said that he wanted Amazon to be his personal library. So he duly rebought his entire library digitally, and (if I recall correctly) gave away or otherwise disposed of his paper library. And then, much to his surprise and horror, some hardware or software issue arose, and his digital library virtually evaporated.

I don’t feel that the virtualization of the personal library is necessarily a bad thing (except when you put all your eggs into the same basket.) It could be viewed in the same way as the virtualization of one’s music library. Yes, there are no more racks of jewel cases or shelves of LP’s to impress (or unimpress) guests with, but it certainly makes enjoyment of the collection much more convenient.

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