Skip to Main Content

Book History and Print Culture at the Millennium (March 2014): Coexistence without a Conclusion

by James K. Bracken

Coexistence without a Conclusion

Marilyn Deegan and Kathryn Sutherland’s Transferred Illusions puts the question of print’s survival at an objective arm’s length by focusing on the book and the Internet as different “information spaces.”  Deegan and Sutherland offer a wonderfully pragmatic discussion based on the assumption that it is usually an error to presume total culture replacement.  They highlight how print forms and culture relate to and are changed by digital forms and culture, pointing to the cross-influences of print, digital, and earlier oral and scribal forms.  The book, they argue, is flourishing because of digitization in management, production, preservation, and more.  Deegan and Sutherland conclude that digitization gives us access to more books while coincidently exacerbating circumstances akin to what Price described for nineteenth-century Britain’s complex relationships with books: digitization changes our “relationship” to books and to ourselves.  The future’s real challenges are not about print or digital formats but rather, Deegan and Sutherland argue, about our human capacity to deal with the information that we present to ourselves in an increasing variety of formats.

Reports of the book’s death seem to be greatly exaggerated.  There is irony that Gomez’s Print Is Dead and Haugen and Musser’s Are Books Becoming Extinct? are printed books.  “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).  Cultures make books and will continue to make them, because whether or not we are aware of it or despite that we might say otherwise, we seem to need them.  Interest in telling the life histories of books appears to be evolving in parallel.  Coverage of bibliographies like Howard-Hill’s The British Book Trade need to be extended or break new ground, while other standard reference works already incorporate the digital book as part of the book’s life history.  Like the book and print culture at the millennium, their study flourishes.

Works Cited