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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

"The Library In Your Future," NYRB

You should read "The Library in Your Future," an article in the June 12 Issue of the New York Review of Books Darnton writes as a professor with deep knowledge of the history of print and publishing, as an enthusiast for digital publishing, and as sceptic — or at least healthy critic — of the digital library as a replacement for the physical library. I read the article just as I was writing my own next Consider the Source piece for SLJ about databases that K-12 teachers can use which include texts from websites, but not books. And that leads me to an issue in this whole matter of multiple literacies that I have yet to see discussed anywhere — an issue that actually links to the recent posts here by art directors: design, art, illustration.

From the first concept books through upper YA, one hallmark of books created for younger readers is attention to design, layout, and illustration. As Joann pointed out, the selection of a typeface is not just a matter of scrolling through the options on your toolbar. Done right, it is a form of painting, of set design — it shapes the space in whcih the author’s ideas are presented. That is all the more true of the use of images — art in picture books, archival photos in much non-fiction. When we talk about multiple literacies for new readers, everyone immediately mentions the importance of visuals — from graphic novels to virtual worlds, to films. So the care taken in the design of a book is a crucial form of modeling. It shows readers how art and text can best work together.

But here is the problem: rights to images are not controlled by the author — especially when he or she uses archival photos. So the more digital libraries become, the bigger the crisis. Either the very books that would be most useful for a visual generation will not be available in digital form (or will be there only without their images), or someone is going to have to pay for digital rights — and that someone is not going to be the author, since no one is compensating him for digital use, nor the publisher for the same reason. But digital rights holders will surely not allow their images to be freely accessed online (where most people would be likely to see them, and even copy them) while they charge for their use in print.

Until we resolve the question of how illustrations purchased for use in print books can appear in digital form, the value of the digital library to K-12 readers is limited — it offers vast access to everything except the very books created for those same K-12 readers.