Chicago History Museum

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The New Online Life of Books

Tue, 04/26/2016 - 10:37

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.

Chicago Historical Society. In Memoriam, Isaac Newton Arnold, Nov. 30, 1813–Apr. 24, 1884, Arthur Mason Arnold, May 13, 1858–Apr. 26, 1873. Kiev: Leopold Classic Library (2015).

This book was originally published by the Chicago Historical Society in 1885. Isaac Arnold was one of early Chicago’s most prominent citizens. He was a founder of the Society, a congressman, and the first biographer of his friend, Abraham Lincoln. His son, Arthur Arnold, died tragically by drowning in the Rock River.

More than a century and a quarter after the original publication, the Leopold Classic Library, based in Kiev, now offers a new paperback printing of this book (a .pdf version of the book also is available to those who purchase the paperback.) Many out‐of‐copyright publications of the Chicago Historical Society, including the Arnold book, also are available online at no cost through Google Books.

Should the Chicago History Museum as the author, publisher, and former copyright holder be disturbed by these developments in publishing? Just the opposite! Online editions in particular dramatically increase access around the world on a 24/7 basis—an unalloyed good in terms of the Museum’s mission to share Chicago stories. What I also believe, however, is that museums and libraries should recognize something else about online publications, something beyond the question of access. To my mind, the ideal way to serve up an old book is in an online scanned version and not in the book’s original physical form. First consider the book. Handling a physical book inevitably results in deterioration, yet the original Arnold book that Google scanned for Google Books remains undisturbed on a shelf at the New York Public Library no matter how often its replica is viewed on line. Now consider the reader. It is possible for each reader to enlarge the online text and enhance the lighting, both of which a physical book does not allow. An online version also makes it easier to make copies of pages, which is something that researchers value. All in all, the online version offers a better experience for the reader, while leaving the treasured original book alone. Is our museum field prepared to acknowledge this? Time will tell.

> Read the book on Google Books

> Download the book from the New York Public Library