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E-Readers vs. Physical Books….again.

How Green Is My iPad

“All in all, the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library.”

I can’t argue with the technicality of the statement.  If you can walk to the library, that’s probably best.  But the majority of, say, Bloomington, can’t walk to the library; they have to drive there or take a bus.  And if they are only picking up one or two books, that makes the trip environmentally that much worse.  Whereas if I want a new book on my e-reader, I use the device to browse the server and download the book to it, never leaving my home.  Yes, energy is used for the device, transmission, and server, however I wasted no fuel, drove nowhere, and didn’t use the electronic check out search or check out system at the library (which probably would have used the same amount of energy as downloading the book in the first place).  Given that I’ll probably be able to read a large number of books on my device and that I’ll likely download all of them, that saves innumerable trips driving back and forth to the library.

Also, I don’t think this person (or these people) actually took all the variables into account.

They talk about how e-readers have particulate emissions, but books (especially from your local library) could be a health concern as well.  People spill stuff on books, hack and cough on them, take them to the bathroom with them, etc.  While I’m personally not particularly paranoid about that (just like I’m not particularly paranoid about computers/e-readers and particulate emissions), it is something to take into account, especially when I get to pages of a library book that are stuck together with some mysterious substance.  To go along with that, my electronic books can be backed up on my computer easily, and multiple people in my family can be reading the exact same copy of the book at the same time.  A e-book can’t be ripped, torn, or have a drink spilled on; a e-book reader can, but if you replace the reader you instantly replaced all the books (since most legal ways to get books automatically backs up all of your purchases for you).

As mentioned above, when I download a book to my device I’m only using a few seconds of electricity and computer resources (across the whole line though, true).  However, a single server can serve out hundreds to thousands of books at the same time using approximately the same energy/electricity a idling check out computer at the library.  A library can also have a ton of lights and computers running at all times, even when areas and computers are not in use.  It’s true that a library can serve a lot of people at the same time, however I wonder how much energy a library is wasting when only half full or less.

Furthermore, when I download a book there’s no shipping of a physical item involved.  Libraries don’t magically get books via the Fast Fairy System (FFS).  They have to order the books same as everyone else.  There might be better channels and bulk shipping, but there is shipping.  Storage of books is another concern.  It takes a lot of space and resources to properly store a number of books, whether it be a bookshelf or two at home or at the library.  On my e-reader I can store thousands of books easily that won’t need any maintenance (rebinding, restoring lost pages, special boxes to keep them from falling apart, etc.).

And finally, e-book readers are evolving.  My new current reader, a iPad, does a ton more than just read a e-book.  That’s not really taken into account in their report, probably because it’s hard to quantify.  But by buying a iPad, I took out my need to buy a laptop.

I’m not trying to come down on libraries or whatever, really.  :)   I simply dislike it when people try to knock down e-readers because of the “green” aspect and pit a e-reader against a single book.  I will 100% agree that if you buy a e-book reader and read just a couple books on it and toss it, then yes, you should have just gone to to the library.  And I absolutely think libraries have their place and need to stick around, if for no other reason than that I don’t always want to buy a book in order to read it (I look forward to digital checkouts from the library).

But I wish they’d stop coming down on e-readers with far less-than-complete scenarios.