Thursday, June 30, 2011

When John Scalzi won over ALL librarians, aka ALA Sci-Fi Panel

It's taken me a while to begin posting about ALA, because so much is still floating around in my head waiting to be coalesced into cogent thought! I may be posting more, but I'll begin with this post about the Sci-Fi panel I attended on Saturday night.

One theme I noticed throughout the conference was what I'll call "why choose - why can't we have both new technology and old?" The first time I noticed the theme was in regards to E-books and paper books.  I noticed several librarians and authors were asked about their preference of E-Books over traditional paper books. Many times the questioner will pose the question in this format "Do you prefer E-books or paper books?" I've actually been asked that myself. Or sometimes the questions is asked like this, "how long before E-books take over?"

LITA/TOR Sci-Fi Panel*
I was pleased when most librarians and authors said, "I like both." Or "Why does one have to survive without the other, can't we enjoy both?" I agree. I think they each have their own purpose. My favorite answer to that might be Carrie Vaughn, who was asked at the panel which she preferred answered, "Whatever my readers want." She went on to say that as long as her books are around and being read that she really didn't care the format. (That may not be word for word - I'm going my memory here, forgive me.) I think that really is a great attitude. Rather than worry about the format, the worry should be about whether or not the books are being read, right? The panel is pictured above and included (from left to right) David Weber, Bill Willingham, Orson Scott Card, John Scalzi, Jim Ottaviani, Carrie Vaughn, and Gail Carriger.

They each spoke about the future of Information Technology. Some weaved in the effects of science fiction on technology, while others just spoke about the topic in their own way. It was funny how one author mentioned that we cannot predict what new technologies will emerge and that Sci-Fi has always been wrong. I disagree with that some, and apparently so does John Scalzi. He told a little story about  how he remembered reading about something where pointing to a line of text would bring up whole other pages of text in one of Orson Scott Card's books in the late 80's. So like 5 years later when hyperlinks were invented, he said, "Hey! They stole that idea from Orson Scott Card!!"

Of course, I had to show off my picture with OSC!
Going back to the question about E-books versus paper books, an important question came up about preservation. First of all, one person argued that paper books may actually hold up longer, becaue digital books require a format to read them. Will we really be using the same technologies thousands of years from now to be able to read a Kindle or Nook book? Whereas, we certainly can still read a book written on scrolls from hundreds of years ago, right? Although, there are translations involved. Gail Carriger said that she actually likes books going into digital format, because she felt that her books being in the digital world gave them a longer life. The book would always be there. (You know because once something's online, it's there forever).

This discussion lead to the biggest question of all regarding the future of books: Are books preserved over thousands of years because they're beloved or are they beloved because they were preserved (over other books that happened to not get preserved)? Good question.

It was a fun, though-provoking panel! I'll leave you with my favorite part - John Scalzi posed the question, "If an alien came down to earth and wanted to know more about the planet, who would we send him too?" He went through all of the wrong choices (A scientist - no because he'd want to probe him, The government - no because they'd want to use him as leverage against enemies, etc.) Then he said, of course the obvious choice is a Librarian. Where else would the alien go where he would be asked first and foremost, "What do you want to know?" (instead of the other way around)
He concluded by saying, "Librarian's are the human interface to the universe of knowledge." Wow!
(Yes, cursing myself for not getting a picture with John Scalzi!)

*The official title of the panel discussion presented by LITA and TOR Books was: Looking at the present and future of Information Science and Information Technology through the eyes of a panel of science fiction and fantasy authors. Imagine the possibilities, explore the realities, think about the consequences.