Among The Dead Trees

Final day of revision. Birkbeck Library today is packed with  students, all in the same boat. It’s the height of exam season, and it can be hard to find a seat in the library, even at 8pm in the evening. Torrington Square is full of red-trousered boys (seems to be the fashion) with armfuls of books.

Lots of  ‘Good luck!’

or, later on in the day:  ‘I can’t believe that question…’

And it still is real books they carry about the campus, along with their laptops. The trolleys for books to be re-shelved look like they’ve been there pre-internet, and they’re still under heavy use.  I think one reason is that even though a lot of research can now be done online, there’s still plenty of academic texts that just aren’t available digitally, at least not for free. It can also be healthier to work from a book alongside a laptop, if only to give the eyes a break from the screen. The classes themselves are still paper-heavy, too, with A4 ‘hand-outs’ given out at most lectures and seminars. I’ve seen some students do their lecture notetaking on iPads and netbooks, but the majority scribble away with pen or pencil.

Today might be a watershed for the history of paper books in Britain, in fact, as Waterstones have announced they’ll be selling Kindle e-books in their shops. Quite how this will work will be interesting (special machines in-store?), but it’s an inevitable step, now that e-books have started to take off. To be able to buy Kindle books without having to give money to the tax-avoiding giant that is Amazon can only be an good thing.

Here’s an interesting article by the author Linda Grant, in favour of Kindles as a device, but uneasy about letting Amazon hog the market. She makes the point that books are mainly written on screens now, so why is it so strange to want to read them on screens too?


My exam is tomorrow morning at 10am. The last time I took an exam, Margaret Thatcher was in power.

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