I’m currently visiting New York City on business, and decided to arrive a day early to play tourist and orient myself. While wandering around Midtown, I was looking for a place to sit, cool off and catch up with my e-mail when I came across the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. So I decided to enter.
In the lobby of the NYPL there is an exhibit showing draft manuscripts by famous creators. An original sketch from Beethoven caught my eye. As I tried to read the melody through the squiggles and the smudges, I started to understand why historians prize these artifacts: they provide a unique window into the author’s thinking process. Other displays of the original manuscripts of playwrights, poets and authors made me wonder about how historians of the future will be able to piece together the thought processes of current and future thinkers if the edits to their digital documents are lost to time.
We value the neatness of the end-product, but this order is the product of messy trial-and-error evolution. Sometimes the process is as important as the product.
Then I decided to further explore the building. You have probably seen the Rose Main Reading Room in many movies, including Ghostbusters (and others but they don’t come to mind right now). It is a tall, wood-paneled sunlit space with an intricately carved ceiling, long oak tables with brass lamps and shelves of reference books lining the walls.
I was in awe. There is something cathedral-like to the space, a hymn to the knowledge and wisdom passed down through the generations.
Looking around, I feel a twinge of sadness. I am surrounded by books, but at the same time, “books”, the physical kind, are slowly disappearing from my life.
I stopped adding to my personal library about a year ago, when I got my Kindle. The good thing about the e-book revolution is that it makes books and knowledge much more accessible, and especially more convenient. Before I bought my Kindle about a year ago, I occasionally read books, maybe ten or twelve a year. Now my little Kindle currently holds about 400 books on business, finance, philosophy, biographies, politics and science, as well as a healthy percentage of novels, sci-fi and short stories. I now go through at least two or three books a month. I’ve paid for about fifty of them, the rest are Kindle “freebies”. The freebies I select are on average quite good. I no longer have any need for paper books, and will not even consider buying a book unless I can get it in Kindle format.
I wonder if, a hundred or two hundred years from now, when EPUB and PDF and DOC files are all obsolete and impossible to read, will libraries like this magnificent reading room still exist? Will paper books still hold the collective memory of humanity or will we lurch forward, suffering amnesia and forgetting the genesis of our ideas and our knowledge?
I don’t have children of my own to carry on my legacy, but the desire for a passing immortality still inhabits me. Which is the primary motivation driving me to produce a book (and eventually several books) with my name on the cover, to be distributed on the shelves of libraries large and small across the US and Canada and eventually around the world. Just maybe one idea, somewhere in my book, will be the key to unleashning the creativity of someone who changes the world for the better.
Every knowledge professional needs to write a book sooner or later. The experience you develop through your practice is too valuable to be forgotten. The path to being regarded as the authority in your field is by becoming a published author.
I expect that most of my sales to of the e-book kind. But if enough dead tree versions are produced, then just maybe I can achieve a little bit of immortality, just like the passion-driven, dedicated authors and scholars who wrote the volumes which line the shelves of this magnificent temple to knowledge.
For more information
Exhibition: Celebrating 100 Years: http://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/celebrating-100-years
New York Public Library Rose Reading Room: http://www.nypl.org/locations/schwarzman/general-research-division/rose-main-reading-room
I’m currently in New York for Book Breakthrough 2011: http://www.bookbreakthrough.com/workshop/