Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Ideal Book

This past weekend, I attended a meeting of the Mid America Association of Law Libraries, where Rivkah Sass was the keynote speaker. Wow! If you ever get a chance to hear her speak about change, don't miss it.

But she got me thinking about an old idea I've had about the perfect blending of old and new technology. You see, many people tend to see the coming "revolution" as some sort of an all or nothing thing: you are digital and like everything to be on computer, or you're a book person, who disdains computers and wants everything in print. That's dumb in my opinion. Who declared war? There's no battle going on, there's simply life, lived in reality.

We need to regularly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of various technologies and formats and adopt or collect those that work, and drop those that don't. But sometimes, hybrids make most sense. Consider this: ALR, CJS or things like annotated codes are fine research tools, but their indexes suck. What if instead of an index, there was a volume that was really a solid state computer with it's flash memory stuffed with indexing information? Such a device could be cheaply made and easily updated either wirelessly or with little flash upgrades. It could have a BW touch screen that allowed you to search the text of the treatise or encyclopedia in full text and provide lists of citations. You could even build a little thermal printer in the top that would print lists of cites of a roll of paper like a cash register receipt. End of indexes, without killing the book. Such a device would cost about fifty to one hundred bucks to manufacture and next to nothing to maintain. At today's costs, such a device could added into the cost of maintaining the subscription and hardly be noticed.