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Ebooks, BILLY Bookshelves, and forecasts of the death of hard print books

September 11, 2011

Old booksAs I type this, my right elbow is about three feet  away from a small wall covered by modules from one of IKEA’s most popular furniture lines, the BILLY bookshelves.  The BILLY system of shelving is cheap, clean, modular, easy to assemble, and has selections with enough different physical dimensions to neatly fill just about any wall space I have available.  When I moved recently the bookshelves broke down easily, transported well, and fit right in with their new space with just enough gap on one end to fit another unit (which I haven’t yet acquired).  This may sound like the rapidly written first draft of an IKEA ad, but it really isn’t.  I like the damned  prodigiously  mass produced things.

The books alongside me at eye level include Donald Knuth’s classic series, The Art of Computer Programming, Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor501 Spanish Verbs, The Chicago Manual of Style, Franklin Garrett’s Atlanta and Environs, The Ruby Programming Language, John Forester’s Effective Cycling; well, you get my point.  I have a really eclectic array of books, which I love.  The fact that those specific books are on the same shelf also indicates that I don’t really have a rational shelving system.  The books I’ve been reading lately tend to be shelved near arm’s reach, while infrequently read books tend to bubble upward and downward.

The reason I’m writing about the BILLY system today is that Time Magazine has run an article about  IKEA’s decision to redesign the BILLY system to acknowledge that hard print books are beginning to fade, and people are using the BILLY shelves to store a large range of items other than books.

I’m not going to write yet another maudlin article about nostalgia for the age of hard print.  Mass produced bound books don’t have any more intrinsic and immutable place in civilization that the chiseled stone cylinder, the papyrus scroll, or the teletype machine.  All those things were means of communicating information.  I love my hundreds of books, but I love my metal Popeye lunch box, too.  And I don’t let my nostalgia for Popeye cartoons cloud the realization that this lunch box is seldom the most practical (or dignified) way to carry my lunch.

Even though I haven’t bought a Kindle, or a Barnes and Noble NOOK, the books I buy most frequently, which are programming language and other works related to my business, are usually available on PDF.   And it’s a lot easier to carry  a thumb drive full of ebooks with me from site to site than it is to carry a shelf full of hard copy books and manuals.

So as long as I can buy one of the existing BILLY units to fill that remaining gap in the wall before they roll out the new ones, I’m fine with IKEA’s decision. PEM5AFP7QVNT

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