Two exciting bits of online book news

Well, exciting to me, anyway.

I was thrilled to learn, via Open Access News, that the University of Pittsburgh Press is going to digitize most of their backlist and make it available online for free open access, with the help of the Pitt libraries (who have been digitizing all kinds of collections over the past decade). They’ve started off with 39 titles from their Latin American series. I’m very excited to see a major university press offer much of its books to the world at large. (And I think it would be fun to eventually have access to a digital version of, say, Youghiogheny: Appalachian River, which I bought from them a few years back.)

I also learned from Boing Boing that Vernor Vinge has put his novel Rainbows End online for free reading, along with some supplementary images, and links for buying print copies. This is a major, recent novel (it won both the Hugo and Locus Awards earlier this year). It compellingly explores many themes that resonate with people thinking about libraries of the future, including the persistence and reliability of memory, mass persuasion and coercion, imposition of computer-mediated virtual experiences over the physical world, and the resultant downgrading of the physical world and those who interact primarily in it.

The book features both wonders (like the curing of formerly “hopeless” Alzheimer’s patients) and horrors (like a spectacularly destructive mass book digitization program, horrific at least for anyone who loves print as well as electronic books.) It’s not meant as literal prediction of the future, but, like a number of Vinge’s other stories, it makes the reader think about the possible ramifications of the technologies and social systems we’re building now, and reflect on the nature of humanity, technology, and computer-mediated culture.