Reverence for the physical book is alleged to be the motivator for Erik Schmitt, creator of The Pages Project, a website devoted to preserving all those individual markings in books. But one might question that reverence when learning that the technique he uses to preserve the annotations in a particular book is to cut the page out, photograph it, and upload the image. Cut the page out? Not only does Schmitt do this himself, but he invites others to do the same and submit images to the archive. The starting point was his work on the early Kindle, which provoked this thought; “Very soon after the Kindle’s launch and as various forms of digital communication continued to gain traction, discussions of ‘The Death of Print’ became common.” Chopping up the books you’ve just inherited from your grandad seems like a really good response to those worries! And annotation is one of the things which Kindle makes easy, and annoyingly easy to share.

The site seems utterly confusing: it is just what it says it is — a collection of pages with annotations. I can’t figure out any order, or if there is order, any way of accessing that plan. It’s just one page followed by another page from different books, with minimal background information. Now this may just be my problem: I may not have tried hard enough to figure it out. But how much time am I going to spend to get to find out about the marks made by Mr. or Ms. Anonymous in this or that random book? I’d be a lot more interested to see T. S. Eliot’s annotations to a Dryden poem than the thoughts of an unidentified Joe Blow, but if such a thing were indeed to be found here, there’s no apparent way to search for it. I’m not sure why anyone would think we’d be interested in a random collection of these sorts of things.

pagesproject

Much more productive is the research on annotations in books being conducted at the University Library in Cambridge, described in the video “Private lives of print” attached to my recent post.

Here’s a story about the Pages Project from Mashable.com and a link to The Pages Project website. It all serves to remind me that while the internet can bring us lots of amazing and wonderful stuff, it can also get filled up with wasted space.

Maybe my problem with this is merely my assumption that we are not living through “the death of print”. If printed books really were things of the past, maybe a sort of nostalgia gallery like this might have a kind of aesthetic charm to it (though I still find it hard to see why the books should have to be cut up). If the print book does indeed die it’ll be because we have come up with something superior. As yet we haven’t. The Kindle may arguably be superior for a quick read in genre fiction — I certainly have no problem with reading such stuff on the Kindle app. But the more serious a book becomes the less Kindle-friendly (or e-book-friendly) it is.  Whether this will change in the future remains to be seen. But anyone who speaks of today’s kids as the last generation who will ever know a printed book (and so many people do, that standing against it almost makes one look eccentric), is just succumbing to mass-hypnosis.

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