The doomsayers have been predicting for quite some time that the ever-increasing use of electronic resources will doom the book to obsolescence. Their pessimistic views of the future either had everyone sitting in front of flickering computer screens reading plain ASCII text or refusing to read at all, preferring instead to be entertained by multimedia extravaganzas. In their future, the art of typography would be lost forever, as would the simple pleasure of opening a new book and inhaling the "new book smell."
I would never presume to predict the future, but I do observe the present, and in the online circles through which I move, I observe that books are being advertised, promoted, discussed, and even celebrated with great fervor. As a long-time book lover I find this to be exhilarating, and as a librarian I find it to be quite valuable to my work. This month we'll take a look at some of the interesting and entertaining electronic resources dealing with books.
Book Talk in the Newsgroups
I began my quest for information in the Usenet newsgroups. I figured if I was looking for discussion, this was the place to start, and I was not disappointed. I searched the newsgroups available from my Internet service provider and came up with the list shown in Figure 1 (page 29). Your service provider may not carry all these newsgroups, or you may find some other newsgroups that aren't carried by my provider, but this list will get you started.
As you can see, the topics range from very broad to very specific. The content of newsgroups also varies widely; some wander off the topic, while others stay more tightly focused. In general, newsgroups that have a moderator who reviews messages before posting them tend to stay more on the topic. The wide-ranging, no-holds-barred discussion style of the unmoderated groups might be more to your liking, however, so drop in on several newsgroups to see what you prefer.
As a librarian, I found myself drawn to the groups that carried reviews. I often like to read reviews other than those found in the library literature. For example, computer book reviews that are written by "techies" are usually the best predictors of what my library's "techie" patrons will like, so I spent some time browsing biz.books.technical and misc.books.technical. I also browsed through rec.arts.books.reviews and found the group's latest FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document. It explained the group's focus, which is to provide "reviews of books of interest to readers, school and public librarians ... and others who desire an 'educated opinion' of a book." There is a keyword-searchable archive of reviews from this newsgroup at gopher.colorado.edu for those with access to gopher client software. Discussion of the reviews takes place in a separate newsgroup, rec.arts.books. Librarians who are responsible for book selection should certainly benefit both from the reviews and the discussion, and could contribute their own reviews and comments.
Access to newsgroups can be obtained in a variety of ways. If you have an Internet account through an Internet service provider, it most likely will include access to newsgroups. Commercial services, such as CompuServe, America Online, and Prodigy, are expanding their Internet access, and most are providing newsgroups in their Internet services. Smaller online services, such as bulletin board systems or subscription systems on specialized topics, may also provide access to selected newsgroups. I found this to be the case when I visited BookWire, a new online service devoted to the book industry.
BookWire is a subscription-based service with a monthly fee for unlimited access. New users can take advantage of the 30-day trial period which allows 30 minutes of access each day. The system can be accessed through direct dial with vt100 terminal emulation, but users will enjoy the service much more if they download the client software which provides a graphical interface. …