Thursday, September 23, 2010

The end of the beginning?

This one is not about a story. Well, it is a story, but it's not my story. It is the publishing story.

Yesterday I visited the Library of Congress for the first time. We took the guided tour. All of it was beautiful and fascinating, and it contained far fewer books than you might expect. In total, we saw two books up close. Just two.

The first was the Giant Bible of Mainz. It is hand scribed on vellum. It is illuminated. It was written in 1452 and 1453 and the work took fifteen months. It was produced in or near Mainz, Germany, right around the time of the Gutenberg Bible.

The second book we saw was the Gutenberg Bible. It too was produced in Mainz, Germany in the 1450's. It represents the massive revolution in books that came as a result of Gutenberg's use of movable type. In the same amount of time it took the Mainz scribe to complete one copy of the Bible, Gutenberg printed about 180 bibles. A massive revolution.

The Library of Congress calls the Mainz Bible "The End." It calls the Gutenberg Bible "The Beginning."

Standing there, looking at these books, I couldn't help but recall Stephen Roxburgh's talk at Chautauqua about digital books, e-books, and print-on-demand publishing. And I wondered when the Library of Congress is going to look at the Gutenberg Bible as the end of the beginning. Given that most people can view it, as you may have just now, online, perhaps they already do.


Christine Fonseca said...

Such an interesting perspecitive. I'm not sure how I even feel about it...

Tess said...

that building is my most favorite building I've ever been ornate and beautiful.

Everything in time builds upon itself and things morph and change. But, like Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof said, if we don't know where we came from, how can we know where were going? I'm waxing weird here, but guess I'm saying that ebooks don't negate what is today. There is still value in where we are now.

I know you know this, I'm just blabbering.

Sarah said...

I need to visit! I've no excuse after living so close to it.

As far as books and e-books, i thought of Stephen Roxburgh's talk as well. I think he made such a good point: our bound books are word buckets- fairly new word buckets. And while I love holding a book in my hand, I don't think e-books are the end of stories, perhaps just a different way of transmitting them.

And yes, Tess, I completely understand what you were saying.

Michelle said...

Christine, I'm not sure how I feel about it either. A little sad, a little curious about the future, I guess.

Tess, I agree about knowing where we came from.

Sarah, like I said, I'd never been until yesterday. I'd have liked to spend more time, but that means I'll just have to go again. Road trip?