In the early Christian era
, the bound book
format which we are familiar with, superseded papyrus
offering more effective storage and ease of access; in the 8th Century,
letter forms (using small characters, rather than just
) 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"
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.