Can eBooks ever replace print books — or that endangered species, the used book store?
As he hit the slopes for several hours, I headed up to Bennington, Vt., in search of WiFi. I found what I was looking for, at the South Street Cafe, where computers pretty much seemed to have replaced books in this hub of New England intellectualism. And I ended up discovering another rarity.
After filing a story or two, I'd left some time to explore the little villages in the northern Berkshires in Massachusetts. But as I trudged to my car in the (moderately) frigid weather, I spotted a handwritten sign pointed up an old wooden staircase, advertising used books.
How could any book lover fail to drop everything else and follow such a sign? After ditching the computer bag, I climbed the steep stairs, following the musty smell of old books (sniff, sniff) to what I believe was the Now and Then Bookstore on Main Street — there was no big sign advertising the name.
The inside was crammed with shelves of old books on all sorts of subjects — I couldn't help but wonder how many had been downloaded on eBooks, or ever would be. Of course, it was a special pleasure to page through art books and regional history books on Vermont filled with plenty of illustrations.
I rationed myself to two books, and left. I didn't open them till returning to Basking Ridge. There, inside "The Man of the Renaissance," published in 1933 — a great era for biographies — was a trove of four-leaf clovers, carefully pressed between pages 318 and 319.
"Oh, the magic of books," observed Bernards Library Director Ruth Lufkin, when I ran into her about a week later at the ShopRite in Bernardsville, and told her the story.
Bernards Library planning its future now
Lufkin said then that heading further into the world of technology and eBooks — while still maintaining a print book collection — is one of the balancing acts that the library is contemplating while planning its future.
Since then, library officials have held a Community Forum asking residents where they would like to see the library head for the next chapter in its history.
"We want to make sure we are meeting the needs of the community," said Tim Opremcak, president of the library Board of Trustees, said at last week's forum. Meanwhile, residents can call up the library's website to file an online survey asking what they would like the library to prioritize in coming years.
The library already has a considerable collection of eBooks that patrons can download. Lufkin told me that the library is considering investing in electronic reading devices.
I asked her whether the library's users seemed to prefer print or electronic books. Her answer, not surprisingly, was both. And she said that some people love books, but enjoy the convenience of eBooks at certain times.
What do you prefer? Do you believe the experience of reading is as good — or better — with an eBook? Does convenience trump the thrill of browsing a book cover?
Or do you prefer paging through a beloved book, revisiting favorite passages at will? Do you have a special fondness for books you've kept for years, and might open to find bookmarked with a receipt from a shop you visited in a favorite place?
Please let us know your preference in the poll below, and in the comments section. Happy reading — and writing!