|The Leader of the Luddites|
I have often thought about this debate over the years and when I moved to Mesa almost forty years ago, we soon installed a solar hot water system. I had come to understand the pros and cons of both solar and atomic and had moved from being an ardent supporter of atomic power plants to being a solar energy enthusiast. In later years, I even won an important lawsuit against home owners associations that would limit the installation of solar energy collectors.
What has this got to do with genealogy? Don't worry, I will get there eventually.
We have a lot of technological alternatives. Some of the options appear to be very appealing at first, but turn out to have extremely undesirable consequences. Then, collectively, we have to deal with the fact that adoption of a technology has caused us more problems than benefits. On the other hand, some technologies are so demonstrably superior, they soon become pervasive and eventually, universal. For example, if you go back in history, you will find that many industrial innovations (new technologies) were violently opposed by the very people who would ultimately benefit the most from their implementation. See "What the Luddites Really Fought Against," from the Smithsonian.com. As this article point out, the term "luddite" has come to mean something quite different than what those early 19th Century Luddites were really trying to accomplish. Today we apply to the term to those who oppose technological change.
There is an implication that all technological change is good and all opposition to such change is bad. I don't think we can put value judgments on technological change at all. Technology is neither bad nor good. It is just that: technology. If you want to get into this aspect of technology, just read some of the arguments concerning the issue of "gun control."
Whether or not you believe any particular technological change is beneficial or detrimental depends on your own preferences in using the "newer" technology. For example, whether or not you "like" or "dislike" cellphones will depend on how you use this particular technology. Now, to the genealogical aspects of this topic.
I have had a book for some years about my family. I have written about this before and told how this particular book, written by my great-grandmother, has stories and photos of family members going back almost two hundred years. Like many such books, the print run was extremely limited. The book has almost 800 pages and is valuable in reconstructing and identifying family members. It lacks almost any documentation and has been accused of being full of errors, but the information is priceless, nonetheless.
Here is a citation to the book:
Overson, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis. George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. [Mesa?, Ariz.]: [M.G. Jarvis Overson], 1957.
Most of the people who can trace their ancestors back to those in this book are not even aware of its existence and finding a copy would be very difficult. Some years ago I took advantage of an emerging technology and had the book scanned at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. Ultimately, the book was included in the FamilySearch.org digitized book collection online. Here is the link to the book:
Now there are a whole bundle of technologies that make this book available for free to anyone who cares to look at it from any location in the world. Those technologies include the entire Internet, computers, book scanning equipment, and so forth. Before all this happened, copies of that book were sitting on the shelves of about nine libraries, one of which, the Mesa, Arizona FamilySearch Library, is currently closed. I can now access that book and search every word of the text, from any device attached to the Internet.
What will happen to the original copies of the book? Will the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, leave its paper copy on the shelf just for "old times" sake? How many people used that specific paper copy of the book over the years? The reality is that very few of the people who can trace their ancestors back to those in this book are even now aware of its existence (I said that didn't I?). Guess what? They still have no idea the book exists even though it is in digitized form and universally available.
Should the Family History Library be compelled to keep the "paper" copy of the book on a shelf in the Library, merely on the chance that someone will come along and use the book in that format? Isn't the real issue here the availability of the information contained in the book, irrespective of the format? If the Family History Library people decided to utilize the physical space in the Library building in another way, rather than have shelves of books, but provide universal access to all the books on a free website, is there really a loss to the genealogical community? Isn't the assumed loss rather an issue with a personal preference?
As far as being able to find a copy to buy, it turns out that someone has violated the copyright, which I hold, and published the book on a CD and is trying to sell it for $79.00. There do not appear to be any paper copies of this book for sale online unless the CD copy is really a paper copy for sale.
Just because you personally prefer to hold a paper book for your research does not mean that there are not some extremely good reasons why digital books are not preferable over paper ones. I still use and read paper books, I have large pile of them sitting next to my computer. I just purchased a paper copy of a book that I am in the process of re-reading. But notwithstanding all this, I am still very much in favor of digitizing every genealogically significant book that exists. Let's move them out of the libraries and make them available to everyone, everywhere and those that legally can be, let's make them all free. Let's liberate the information is these books once and for all. And let's stop wringing our hands over the loss of the venerable paper books on library shelves when digital copies are freely available.