Traveling Books or How the Digital can Suppress

Kyle Conway

I’m so concerned with and interested in new technologies that I often ignore older ones to my peril. This semester I’m working on a number of projects surrounding the use/abuse of copyright law as applied to the arts. Since my study isn’t confined to the twenty first century (or even the twentieth century for that matter) it would be unwise to rely entirely on the internet for securing resources and conducting research. This past week I used one of the tools I’d forgotten libraries had the ability to use: mail (and not the e-mail kind).

Earlier this week a real, live, hold-it-in-your-hand, physical book arrived in Texas from the great state of Michigan (well, I’ve only been there a couple of times… I just choose to believe it is a great state because they sent me a book I needed). I’ve been enjoying this book, in many ways, because I really struggled to get it via the web. The strange thing about this book is that it is able to be freely distributed online because of its licensing. When something, such as this book, allows for copying, distributing, and modifying it is normally a simple task to find this liberated content online. Sadly, I had extreme difficulty obtaining this book in a digital form.

When the internet failed me (perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough) I immediately switched to the more archaic analogue forms of obtaining information: from a physical book. The problem with the physical book, though, was that it took time to get here. I had to request the book, wait for it to be found in another library, wait for it to be pulled off of a shelf, packaged, stamped, shipped, travel and eventually arrive. The great thing about this, of course, was that even if the book I requested didn’t have such unique and valuable licensing designed to share knowledge and ideas with me (the purpose of books I think) it wouldn’t have prevented this physical transference of the physical book my way through the library system. While it may have blocked that content from existing in a digital form the paper form could still be carried from one physical place to another and shared with me. In the midst of digital revolutions that is a comforting thought.