I’m off to California today — not because it has been wet and cold in New Jersey, or even because I am being hosted at a winery in Napa, but to launch at experiment. Working with National Geographic and the Napa Unified School District, we are exploring the digital present/future. My bookmaking partner John W. Glenn and I created a small series of books for Nat Geo on the theme of How to Get Rich In (various historical times and places). The books have gotten very nice reviews, but as hardcover titles they have remained safely on library shelves — no matter how well the topics (Gold Rush, Oregon Trail, Texas cattle drive) suited state standards, no teacher could afford to use them in her class. So I suggested that we try something different — Nat Geo has worked out a site license arrangement with the school district. That means the books will be available on any screen to any teacher. The book remains the regular hardcover book. But now teachers can explore whether, and how, the whole book, or any part of it, could be useful to all of her students.
This is an experiment on all sides — Napa does not know yet what makes a book-on-screen useful to a teacher in a way that a book-on-reserve is not. We don’t know exactly what to charge, or for how long. None of us even knows exactly how to define "book" — since, now that the schools will all have every spread in the book, I could also provide them with the research and writing journey behind each page. The book as result and the book as process of creation could be made available — if teachers find that useful, if teachers bring that new package into their classrooms, and see students enjoy reading, and enjoy learning.
There is so much that we do not know. But I could not be more thrilled. Instead of being swamped by technology — as I’ve been discussing this week — we are experimenting with it. I believe this will all begin in the fall — and of course I will keep you posted.