Thursday, January 30, 2014

Library quietus

It is no secret that libraries everywhere are confronted with budget cuts, and even threatened by extinction. In a world where the standard unit of measurement for value is the dollar, libraries find it hard to compete with more profitable undertakings, as they bring a different type of riches and resources. But not all libraries are equal, and while sometimes the public action and/or generous donors manage to intervene in time to prevent a tragic end (as is the case of UC Berkeley libraries), others pass away with quiet resignation. This was the case of seven of the nine famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries that closed their doors by autumn 2013, to, of course, reduce costs. Precious collections left their places on the shelves only to provide fodder for dumpsters, landfills, or, worst of all, fire. Huffington Post reports the whole story here, and while it is debatable whose fault this "libricide" is, there may not be just one person or one organization to blame for a state of things that has become the norm. This, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident. For a related story about life sciences and law special collections libraries, please read Sarah Sutherland article "Saving the Irreplaceable in Small Libraries" in our latest Amphora issue (165).

Would it not be great for us, as a race, to put our priorities in order before it is too late, shake the tyranny of money, and start investing our time and efforts into something worth while?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2014, the year of women writers

Although past are the times when women authors have to use male pen names (George Eliot) or publish their work anonymously (Jane Austen) to have a better chance of being produced and read, there is still a noticeable disproportion in the reception and promotion of female writers compared to male writers.  In April 2013, Vida, an American organization for women in literary arts, discovered such imbalance when they looked at the percentages of reviews and reviewed books written by women in the main publications. For example, at The New York Review of Books, only 16% of reviewers were women, and only 22% of the books reviewed were written by women. Even more comprehensive are the figures and graphs provided by CWILA, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, sorted by publication. The reasons for this situation could be many-folded. Is it because of the sexism pervading the publishing industry? Is it because women are not confident enough to push through? Or is it because we are more inclined to choose books written by men?

But we forget that after all, it is the readers who control the situation, not the publishers. Thus, writer and illustrator Joanna Walsh found an unexpected way to take action against this trend and created a movement that spread like fire on Twitter. She started the hashtag #readwomen2014 after she had designed some bookmarks representing some of her favourite women writers. Since then, the hashtag has been taken up by numerous users, and it has even prompted journalists and publishers to give the subject some thought.

Bookmarks designed by Joanna Walsh

We, Canadians, have a great women's literary tradition, with Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood leading the way. But the question is, how many of the books on our shelves are written by women? How many women-authored books we read last year? Next time we select a book, we should ponder this, and take a step towards discovering our next favourite woman writer.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rock, scissors... e-reader?

The debate between paper books and e-readers seems to have taken mythical proportions, like the eternal conflict between good and evil, conservatives and liberals, cat people and dog people, and The Voice and American Idol. Even if those who embrace the digital version of our beloved tomes get more numerous by the day, once in a while we get a piece of good news that proves that books still have some life left in them.

An online survey conducted by BookNet Canada showed that, as much as e-readership is on the rise, parents are reluctant to encourage their children to use e-readers. Only four per cent of parents admitted they preferred their children read ebooks, and 63 per cent are partial to traditional books. This comes as no surprise, since story time could not be the same without the old-fashioned story book. Is it because of the rustle of the pages turning as the story progresses? Or maybe the tangibility of physically turning a page, while the reader pauses in anticipation? Or could it be the individuality of each book, different in size, weight and cover design, as opposed to all being bundled up inside a device that makes them all of equal size, weight, and appearance, with no identity whatsoever? It could be all of these, or something else, a mysterious ingredient that defines the charm of the story book.

Coincidentally, the November issue of Scientific American published the article The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: Why Paper Still Beats Screens. The study at the origin of the article shows that comprehension is much better when the subjects read paper material, compared to electronic text. Researchers found that "screen-based reading can dull comprehension because it is more mentally taxing and even physically tiring than reading on paper. [...] Prolonged reading on glossy, self-illuminated screens can cause eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision." Compellingly, in an experiment, the people who took a comprehension test on a computer did not score as well as those taking it on paper, and they reported higher strain and weariness.

Can you tell that I am biased toward paper books already? The truth of the matter is that you need only pick an idea, and you can find research, studies, and experiments to either support or oppose it. We live in such a vast, complicated world, that we only need to focus on some aspects instead of others, and interpretations change completely. So, in my case, it would be very convenient to disregard the study that shows that 40 per cent of e-reader owners read more than they did print books, this one that proves seniors find easier to read e-books than print, or this study that shows that e-readers may be better for people with dyslexia, wouldn't it?

The reality is that there are pros and cons on both sides (you can find them here), and for now it is more a matter of preference. There are even people equally inclined to use either, depending on the circumstances, such as carrying an e-reader for commute or travel, and switching back to paper books when reading a bedtime story. The real test will come when the digital natives, the generation who is growing up now in an almost completely digitized environment, reaches the stage when they make the final decisions on what to buy, what to produce, and what to support. By then, will this one year old come around to the beauty of the printed word, or she will still view it as a badly designed software?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book presentation by Gary Sim, Jan 15

Gary Sim of Sim Publishing talks about his new book, Railway Rock Gang on January 15, 7 pm, at the VPL Central Branch, Alma VanDusen Room. The talk will be accompanied by many photographs not published in the book, and the book is available for purchase. Admission is free.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Edge decoration demonstration, Jan 16

When one thinks of book design, it is usual cover and page design that come to mind. But the edges of the books can get their own treatment, and be embellished in beautiful ways. To demonstrate this, master binder Dan Mezza organizes a demonstration in his studio on 10780 West Saanich Road, North Saanich, on Thursday, Jan 16, 9 am to 12 pm. He will show various models and demonstrate techniques such as sprinkled, solid coloured, graphite edge, gauffered graphite edge and gold edge for deckled paper like Arches watercolour. After the demonstration, participants are welcome to try these techniques with their own materials. In order to do that, they need 1-2 acrylic inks or paints, and an existing blank book block or paperback book with good quality paper.

The demonstration is free for the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild members, $15 for non-members, payable at the demonstration. If you wish to attend, please contact Joan Byers at kelpie[at] You can find more edge decoration examples here.

Bookbinding edge decoration from the Cary Graphic Arts Collection

Proof that we put way less thought and technique into our books nowadays compared to the past, is that very few of us even heard of edge decoration. We might have seen a couple of books with coloured or golden edges, but how many are familiar with the fore-edge painting technique? In this case, not only the edge of the book is decorated, but the whole image is only revealed when bending the pages, as shown here, resulting in gorgeous, unique books.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Hello, New Year

We have been enjoying 2014 for ten days already, but it is never too late to wish everybody a marvellous, prosperous new year, full of beauty, warmth, and of course beautiful books. It is also a good  time to remember what a good run we had last year, and confess our intention to outshine it.

Spring is our time for the Alcuin book design competition, and out of more than 200 submissions, our judges chose 41 outstanding winners. Those who did not have a chance to browse these well-designed, beautifully produced books, can settle for a peek here, here, and here. It is not the same as holding them and turning the fine pages, but at least you get the idea.

Not only was Will Reuter one of the judges in this competition, but we also celebrated his work by awarding him the Robert R. Reid award and medal. In return, he rewarded us by entertaining us with his knowledge and wit in a great interview.

While other society's AGMs are a yawn, ours was a sold-out event. No wonder, since our guest of honour, Scott McIntyre, provided a great talk about his experience in the publishing industry.

Fall was a great time for book lovers. October is not only the time for Vancouver Writers Fest, but at the beginning of the month, the Society was involved in quite a few book events. Wazygoose brought together printers and book artists who displayed their work and created some interesting demonstrations for the public. We also got to celebrate the winners of the Alcuin Book Awards, both in Vancouver and in Toronto. You can read more about the other fall events here.

We closed the year with the book auction, where we had a good time while purchasing books at a good price, and a meeting with David Zieroth at Vancouver Public Library.

A nod to our Amphora team who in 2013 worked around the clock to deliver four issues instead of the usual three. (Thank you, Peter Mitham!) Chances are you have just received the last one, hot out of the printing press.

And do not forget that our blog brought you in touch with all the book events in town and will continue to do so in the year to come.

While we hope you enjoyed some of these events, we are confident 2014 will be even more interesting and engaging. We are planning some of our traditional events, but at the same time, some new workshops and lectures are brewing, and there will be some surprise speakers and guests that hopefully you will be delighted to meet. All in all, a bookful year!