What’s more, as long ago as 2003, I called in TeleRead and Slashdot for an international e-book museum at the Library of Congress. It isn’t too late for one there or at the Smithsonian. Let us forever remember the Rocketbook eBook and brethren (as well as early Palm PDAs and the like, even though they weren’t dedicated e-readers). The museum would focus on hardware and other tech. But given the horrors of DRM and ephemeral proprietary formats, it would also be a godsend for those on the content side who didn’t want commerce to wreak mayhem on preservation.
Meanwhile, a little Googling reveals that a brick-and-mortar E-Book Museum already exists at the Russian State Library for Young Adults. E-book-specific tech apparently isn’t that prominent if we go by the linked text and the photo below. Still, I’m delighted that the Russian museum is around.
And now the real news here. A “Digital Reading Museum” will open in Paris, thanks to Le Labo de l’édition. Yes, there’s room for more than one museum, and far more than the Russian effort, the French project would quality without doubt for the description of “e-book museum.” The French museum isn’t at the scale I have in mind for LoC or the Smithsonian. But it is an endlessly useful undertaking just the same.
“The Museum will be the first permanent exhibition space in Europe dedicated to the history of digital reading devices,” says a news release, “from the first machines ever created to the most recent tools. This project is lead by Elizabeth Sutton, French digital publishing consultant and cofounder of IDBOOX, a website devoted to ebooks and high tech.”
As founder of TeleRead, I couldn’t agree more with what follows in the announcement: “Computers, e-readers, tablets and smartphone now form a new heritage which should be made available to professionals and to anyone interested in books and technology. As a place for mediation, this museum will trade as much as possible evolutions of the book industry over the past twenty years, in order to identify the new reading habits which have emerged with digital technology.”
The release continues: “For launch, the museum will focus on e-readers which are one of the first machines thoroughly designed for digital reading. Further devices such as tablets and smartphones will be displayed later on.” Note the words “thoroughly designed.” Project Gutenberg founder Michael Hart originally focused on desktops for e-reading and argued with me about what I considered the need for a tablet-style device, which I talked up in a 1992 Computer World article advocating a well-stocked national digital library system. That said, Michael really hit it on the mark when he later was among the first to appreciate the benefits of cell phones for e-reading.”
According to the release, the museum “is a collaborative project. It will be made possible with donations from manufacturing partners and individual contributions from all over the world. The Labo de l’edition is launching now a big call for donations in hopes of gathering as many devices a possible.” Here’s the donations form.
One thing I am baffled about is a reference in the news release to an interest in e-readers through 2014. Why would fairly recent models be of interest? I’m sure there’s an explanation.
From afar, this strikes me as a thoroughly reputable and worthy project. I’d love for people to be able to get their hands on early e-book hardware not only in the U.S. but also in Europe (still enough Rocket eBooks and the like for both places).
If the project can later include e-book apps for various platforms and show their evolution over the years, then so much the better.
Image credit: Here.