This chapter reviews developments in making literature available to readers and provides a number of scenarios under which the traditional book may continue to survive, regardless of the emerging technologies which are making literature available in other, competing, formats.
With their experience in library and information science education, librarianship, bookselling, reading groups and the web, the authors provide a unique perspective on developments in this area.
While Toffler's vision of word processing leading to the advent of the ‘paperless office’ (Toffler, 1981) has yet to come into existence, access to literature without the use of books is rapidly gathering pace. Indeed, 600 years after the invention of the printing press, Caxton's legacy, the traditional method of making literature available to readers appears to be under threat. Over the past 15 years the world wide web has provided increasing resources, and it was inevitable that works of literature should be among those made freely available in electronic formats. In addition, more sophisticated hardware and software have enabled text to be delivered in a range of multi-media formats. In some cases, admittedly, such technologies have removed the need to read, but on the other hand they have also removed barriers to literature for many who find reading difficult or even impossible. It remains to be seen whether current experiments in the use of ‘Web 2.0’ technologies will further develop access to literature away from the printed word. James Bridle (2006), on his site booktwo.org, hypothesizes: ‘As digital technologies become ever more prevalent, we believe it is inevitable that the primacy of the physical book will fade, and the art forms traditionally associated with it will be radically altered also.’ E-books are clearly here to stay.
Conversion of literary texts into electronic format began as early as 1971 when Michael Hart identified the value of computers for ‘the storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in our libraries’ (Hart, 1992). This was the beginning of Project Gutenberg. The goal of Project Gutenberg was to make freely available in electronic format books whose copyright had expired (Lebert, 2004). Initially, Hart keyed in individual texts such as the American Declaration of Independence using simple code which could be easily read and searched by any system (Berglund et al., 2004).