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For quite some time I have been firmly against the nefarious ereader. I have recently bent — backwards — almost had my arm wrenched out of its socket — to finally admit that an ereader might actually be beneficial to me. So I, antiquarian that I am, gave in to the technology of the 21st century at last.

And why? …to read the old stuff, of course. The old stuff that is either out of print or is impossible to find in tangible-form, be it fiction or nonfiction… and yet much of it is readily available in digital format. That strikes me as being very ironic.

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I’ve had a Nook for about a month, now. I admit that at first I was deeply perplexed by it. And before I figured out how to get books into it from Project Gutenberg, I wanted to run it over with an 18-wheeler out of sheer frustration. But through tinkering about, I’m learning all sorts of things. And I’m getting used to being confined to a fraction of a page at a time.

I do like that I can highlight and make notations like a maniac without marring any books (and for research, it’s often necessary, as much as I hate writing in books). Plus, there’s the basic concept of having (currently) 95 books contained in one small space, in comparison to the 350-odd volumes I have spread out in my study. Don’t get me wrong — I love those books to bits (and they’re much more aesthetic than electronic devices). But I realize that I only have room for so many.

All pluses and minuses aside, in my case it all boiled down to one major dilemma… Which is more important — the books themselves or the information contained within them?

Old medical books, most circa 1800s or early 1900s

When I need to know something — when I’m doing major research and trying to reap whatever scrap I can find — I simply need those facts and tidbits no matter what the format. It doesn’t exactly matter whether I read a musty tome from the 1800s or via digital edition of a similar old work. What matters to me is that I now have both options, and thus have more open doors to find the necessary information.  On one side, the thrill of the hunt to find the old books is exciting and rewarding. On the other, it’s so much easier to just download an ebook.

Will the ebook ever replace the tangible volume? I say — CERTAINLY NOT. It is not a substitute, but a supplement. My Nook doesn’t make me sneeze, and that book of anatomy and physiology from 1855 does make me sneeze, but there’s sometime special in holding something authentic, something that’s been around for over 150 years, that no digital book can ever pull off. Digital books may offer a window to the past, but they don’t allow me to touch it.