Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 113
August 1997

Guild News

Letter From The President

I have often been asked my opinion of the potential effect of the computer/World Wide Web/Internet on the publishing, printing and binding industry. Will this technology hurt our industry? Can the two worlds live together harmoniously? In the extreme, some folks cry that books will cease to exist in printed form; others extol the virtues of the computer claiming they can't live without one (or several!) Certainly the answer lies somewhere in between.

It's true that the computer has already had an effect on the publishing, printing and binding community. You can now get an entire set of 20 + volumes of an encyclopedia, or a thesaurus, dictionary or other reference material onto one tiny little CD-ROM. Even I own a CD-ROM that contains 150 unabridged literary titles on one little disk! You can get the entire United States phone books via computer, read magazine and newspaper articles, and so on. This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg, but you quickly begin to see that it is true that there are a lot of books NOT out there these days.

On the other hand, no one will ever curl up in their favorite armchair with a computer monitor to spend a quiet evening reading. Collectors who love books for the look, the smell and the feel of ink, paper and leather will never stop collecting. We will always have cookbooks, romance novels, and bibles. Limited editions on lovely paper, artists books, wedding albums, and more. Although most schools now include a variety of computer courses in their curriculum, students still continue to burn the midnight oil with textbook in hand. I read somewhere recently that far less than 10% of American households actually have a computer so it doesn't look like the printed book will cease to exist anytime soon.

Even within our small world of 'the book arts' we do benefit from computers - quite a contradiction since we have chosen vocations dependent upon the printed word. To my mind, the greatest advantage is how computers enable us to collect and distribute information. There are computer "lists" for papermakers, printers, bookbinders and calligraphers that allow us to 'correspond' with hundreds of other 'subscribers' simultaneously. Looking for an obscure piece of equipment? In 24 hours you can Þnd it on the net. In the middle of a project and suddenly need help with a technique? Looking for a supply source? Want to Þnd a good place to study your craft? Need historical or biographical information for an article? It's all there, sometimes in a matterof minutes. I have seen book exhibitions on the Internet that I would never get to see in real life; that I probably wouldn't even know about if it weren't for the Web. Bookbinders, printers, calligraphers and papermakers now have their own web sites, complete with photos of their work, enabling one to reach a much larger market than ever before.

It's absolutely certain that computerization has and will continue to affect the book industry as we know it; but it's equally certain that the printed book will never cease to exist. How do I know? I read it in a book.