The library is burning to the ground, and you have time to save one thing: a book on a shelf, a digital photo of the book and its pages, or or the book or manuscript digitally transcribed (that is, typed into a computer file or files). Which one would you save and why?
To make this decision, I had to breakdown what is the job to be done for each ‘product.’ Why seemingly similar, an ebook, scan and physical book are different products with different attributes. On one end of the spectrum an ebook is very utilitarian nature. The main goal of that product is to distribute at the lowest cost, greatest accessibility and most malleable form factor possible.
On the other hand, a book trades away those features for some semblance of permanence and physicality. An old worn book carries with it marking, notes, tears and even historical significance. The bible passed down in your family means so much more than a digital text because of the human connection to the physical book rather than the text. Otherwise a pdf would be more convenient and cheaper. The original US constitution is not important because the text needs to be preserved, copies are everywhere. Instead the physical documents possess a greater meaning from the importance we as a society place on our historical documents. This relationship is where the document draws its value. Even the construction of the book can be important. The care and craftsmen ship invested in a pre-printing press novel is remarkable and valued in its own right. There are a million examples of how the physicality of a book enhances and adds meaning.
A scan sits somewhere in the middle, neither satisfying both ends of the spectrum and inhabiting an unhappy compromise. It lacks the emotional attachment of a physical book and the convenience of an ebook. When making this decision, it is important to take into account a broad and holistic over view of the sources of value.
I would always default to choosing the physical copy for the reasons mentioned as well as a physical book is perishable where the ebook and scan can quickly be created. Therefore, with a little additional effort, the latter two mediums are restored and all the benefits of a paper book are kept. It is important to preserve the heritage and human connections that one can have with a physical object.
A cool essay could be me blogging about myself completing the essays and what I thought of the experience.