The historian Lisa Jardine, in her most recent podcast in the Point of View series on Radio 4, considers the fate of public libraries in economically straightened times, particularly as ‘almost two thirds’ of the UK population went nowhere near a public library in the last twelve months.
She then goes on consider the pleasures of reading ‘real books’, and more importantly, keeping and displaying a hard copy book. The success of Oprah Winfrey’s book club in the US in bringing enormous numbers of people to contemporary fiction as well as to literary classics has certainly changed the fortune of many authors, influenced changes in publishing models and may well have created a whole cohort of self educated readers. Winfrey’s readers are quite clear in their demands. Their preferred format is an attractive, hardback book that they can keep and display.
This in itself does not mean that e-versions of books will not find their market too. Jardine is grateful to be reading Blair’s enormous tome electronically, even though it means she does not get to see the previously unpublished photographs of the Blair family to which hard copy readers are treated.