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Virtual or real?

Phil Patton about the advantages of having good literature on the iPhone and the incomparable joy of having a real book in his hands. Pros and cons of digital libraries ...
Published on 11 Jan. 2010

Phil Patton about Google Books


“Like just about every professional writer and reader, I have been curious about Google’s much-debated library of scanned books — for personal reasons. After critics of the Google Books project charged the company with copyright infringement, a tentative agreement was reached last year that promises to pay authors $60 for the rights to copy each of their publications, with other fees to come. But I’m less interested, frankly, in any future royalties than in the benefits of instant access to a library that is estimated to eventually top 20 million books.

So when a mobile version of Google Book Search showed up among the apps offered on my relatively new iPhone, I tried it out. I was delighted to find that I could browse every issue of Life magazine, from 1936 on, much as I had as a child (though I no longer retreated to the dark closet under the stairs in the decrepit ancient house of my great-aunt Olive). And I learned some surprising things.

One of the sample texts on Book Search was a Joseph Conrad novella from 1917, The Shadow Line. I read it while stranded in an airport waiting room, happy for the emergency material. The novella put me in mind of Conrad’s Under Western Eyes, a 1911 novel about terrorism that struck me as having renewed relevance for our time. I searched the free-books list on Book Search, and there it was, in the public domain ...”

Why is Google giving us the finger?

Phil Patton about the advantages of having good literature on the iPhone and the incomparable joy of having a real book in his hands. Pros and cons of digital libraries: The whole article is published in the Design Observer and recommended by Sheppard’s Confidential.

Test it!

Read the digital version of Conrad’s Under Western Eyes and find the real book with the ILAB Book Search.

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