In the early Christian era the codex, the bound book format which we are familiar with, superseded papyrus and parchment rolls, offering more effective storage and ease of access; in the 8th Century, minuscule cursive letter forms (using small characters, rather than just capitals) were perfected for both Latin and Greek alphabets, bringing further benefits of compression and speed of copying; and, of course, with the introduction of printing five centuries later, publishing on a truly industrial scale became possible, with massive implications for every aspect of communication.

The role computers play in this area has expanded considerably in recent years . The use of computerised catalogues and indexes of existing collections improved their accessibility, while, for publishers, digitisation virtually eliminated the need for type to be physically set by hand. Now that fast, cheap random access storage space is available to every level of computing application, it is clear that machines can effectively and efficiently store not only information about books and journals, but entire texts as well: written works are published and read by thousands, without using a single sheet of paper or drop of ink. These developments are already proving to be an important milestone in the history of the "written" word.

Even so, it seems unlikely that the proliferation of electronic texts will ever completely eradicate the urge to keep that hard copy "just in case". It is hard to believe that there will ever not be a place for books in the world of the student or casual reader: there is still a long way to go to make a handheld computing device as attractive or cheap as a paperback book. But now that so many words, not to mention sounds and pictures, are readily available in digitised form, the idea of such an encyclopædic portable, electronic book as, say, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is considerably less strange and wonderful than it was even a decade ago.