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I'm trying to create a 'futuristic library' in a 1st-world country set in the 21st century. I'm imagining a library where for each book, there is instead an electronic tablet to hold the same text. Each electronic tablet only holds one text and serves the same purpose as a book. In what context would such a the creation of a library system with electronic tablets be practical or preferred to physical books?

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    $\begingroup$ Archive.org lending library. (The entire idea behind electronic book readers is that they can hold any text. Therefore, the practical arrangement is for the library to have a database of electronic texts, and only sufficient tablets for their population of readers, which is always very much smaller than the number of texts in the library. Then when a reader borrows a book, the library will download it to a tablet and hand it over to the reader.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ Libraries are already lending e-books. It may not take many decades for them to (mostly) replace paper books. But then there will be no need for a physical library, as you can borrow books online and use your own reader. The question is rather, if all books were electronic, why would people still go to a library? $\endgroup$
    – Cloudberry
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ Digital Rights Management. The books can not be copied. For specialty non-fiction books only where the information is highly valuable.. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ Electronic, individual e-paper shelf price tags in supermarkets are already a reality in some parts of the world... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the world's largest library; external-preview.redd.it/… $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 4:28

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Realistically, never.

Books just aren't that much raw data. A one-book tablet would consist of a very small ROM chip with the book and a lot more chips controlling the screen, input/output, and other functions (to say nothing of the expense and bulk of the screen itself, or the casing, or the battery, etc).

No matter how much you can slash the price of each of those components, there's no getting around the fact that it would be more practical to have many books' worth of data for each physical tablet - this requires far less material and storage space, and hardly impacts usability since the vast majority of library books spend most of their time on the shelf.

What would be even more practical is to separate the two parts. Keep a huge vault full of ROM chips, and a smaller number of tablets to slot them into. In this sense, the vault of memory chips is much like a microfilm repository, except that the reader is small enough to be portable and lent out to library-goers.

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  • $\begingroup$ e-ink readers are now sufficiently cheap that they can be used as magazine covers; youtube.com/watch?v=8xW9wanzQXA $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Richard A quick search turns up a rather scathing Wired article pointing out that it cost an extra $2 per copy for the e-ink cover, on top of whatever Ford paid to sponsor it; and the result didn't display any text or graphics itself, just switched monochrome overlays on and off over various parts of the printed cover. Granted, things might have improved further since, but it's not a great comparison. $\endgroup$
    – IMSoP
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ @IMSoP - I'm assuming there would also be substantial cost reductions for scale. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ @ IMSoP Methinks that Wired article is nothing but sour grapes over a competitor's scoop. Wired is supposed to be the forefront tech leader, not Esquire, yet Ford picked Esquire to do the initial rollout. I am sure Wired would have a completely different perspective if Ford had chosen Wired for the initial offering. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ "a huge vault full of ROM chips" -> This is pretty much the architecture of 1980's video game consoles. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 23:11
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When the information in the books is top secret.

The problem with distributing information electronically (e.g. downloading to regular eBooks) is that digital information is easy to copy and share, and therefore likely to be copied and shared. Normally that's a good thing, but if the information in your library is highly sensitive/classified (nuclear codes? DNA source code for killer viruses? Black magic spellbooks? Level 35 Scientology texts? etc), then you want a way to keep the information secure and share it with only the few people who you trust to see that information.

One way to do that would be to keep the information on old-fashioned paper books, but those are subject to mildew, aging, etc, so instead you fashion hermetically sealed tamper-proof eBooks, each with a hard-coded encrypted ROM containing the sensitive info, plus maybe some other security devices like a retina scanner, a self-destruct, geofencing alarm system, photocopy-resistant display, and so on. Now if anyone tries to make off with a book to steal its secrets, the book will fight back! :)

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    $\begingroup$ This is the first answer that explains why a library would actually have individual ebooks instead of individual paper books and not use the possibilities of easy copying of digital data. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 10:10
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When paper started to become mass produced, libraries and libraries were reluctant to adopt it as replacement for parchment, because there were concerns that paper was less resistant to time and less versatile whenever there were needs for "corrections".

In your case, tablets might be ok-ish, as long as the electronic is reliable. I recently had to buy a new laptop because the other one had a sudden failure of the motherboard, resulting in its irreversible death. While it was disappointing for me, I can imagine that no library would appreciate losing content due to random failures which, with big numbers, are bound to happen.

Therefore having what you describe would be viable only when and if the underlying electronics had become massively reliable or, even better, capable of self repair.

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Cheaper to Produce

In the real world it is cheaper to make a paper book than an electronic one. In your world it must be cheaper to make the electronic one.

Perhaps we have chopped down most of the trees in the world and not found a good alternative for slices of pulped dried wood. Paper is a luxury item.

One top of that, the electronic books are small to lower material costs. Each book is just a data chip that contains the text. It either (a) projects the text onto a surface to read or (b) gets inserted into a tablet-shaped reader.

The library has tablets you can use inside the library. They have a few hundred tablets but millions of book chips. You can also bring your own reader, or use a reader app on your smart device. If you rent the book you can insert into a reader at home.

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  • $\begingroup$ Digital Rights Management. Each data chip has an encryption system that prevents the 'book' from being copied. The data chip reader has the decryption algorithm, so the data chip can only be 'read' on compatible readers. This protects copywrite. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond --- How does that prevent optical copying? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Polarized filters. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond Anything you can see can be copied somehow, otherwise you wouldn't be able to see it. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ This chain of comments has little to do with my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 14:54
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Practicality or preference might not matter. Product doesn't have to be better if it can be sold in right-way to right audience that is those who decide to buy the books.

Whole thing could be type of pork project or indirect subsidy to local manufacturing economy. Readers would be produced by local company with connections to government. Giving money directly would go against regulations or trade rules. But buying tens of thousand of devices would be no problem. Hand crafting all of those devices would generate jobs.

Also it could be marketed as being at the bleeding edge of technology. Getting rid of old dusty books and replacing them with modern technology. Look you can even change the font size for single book stored in the device.

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The library has a diverse audience (in terms of language, eyesight, reading ability, etc.) The electronic books automatically adjust to the reader's preferred format. They have:

  • Auto-translation into many languages
  • Automatic font scaling for people who need large print
  • Text-to-speech abilities for illiterate or distracted readers.
  • Bookmarking functions, so dog-earing is obsolete
  • Automatic search and indexing, to easily find topics in the book
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  • $\begingroup$ That is an argument for having one tablet per user. Not one tablet per text. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinGrey -- It is an argument for electronic text(s) instead of paper texts. It says nothing about number of tablets per user or number of tablets per text. $\endgroup$
    – Jasper
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 22:38
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The supreme court ruled that piracy is in fact not a theft so people can copy and share any digital material without breaking the law. To counter that Publishers decided to implement DRM protection so strong you cannot buy an e-book file without authorizing it with hardware chip found in the reader. After years of this practice they notice that pirating a paper copy is a lot easier because of scanners and they can control companies licensed to make DRM chip-enabled devices so they stop printing. Since electronics are extremely cheap and cutting trees a taboo, libraries concluded it's better to have one reader per book than multiple readers authorized to open thousands of book files they own.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting factoids, going back to the original Apple II and the clone Orange. Lawsuits flew between them for breach of IP rights. Orange argued you can not copywrite digital binary code, it is not human readable. Apple found programmers that could indeed read pure binary and explain what the machine code did, so binary machine code was a human-readable language. Apple put a copywrite on the circuit boards and argued that any board that copied the same connections between chips was breaking copywrite. Orange re-arranged the chips, but Apple argued rearranging chips is like paraphrasing. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 19:50
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In your world, engineers haven't invented dense electronic storage or WiFi (or these are prohibitively expensive), but space is still at a premium (like in a very large city). This leads to a strange balance where one tablet can just barely hold one book (especially with illustrations), but it's still cheaper to make a library of thin tablets than to buy a larger space to house the same number of books.

Alternatively, people in your world just prefer things this way. No messy menus, no search functions, no page turning. Just one book per tablet, plain and simple. And if tech is cheap enough to provide this luxury, why not?

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There are no cows or trees

In the late 21st, due to runaway emissions, humanity has killed inadvertently killed off all plant life. All animal life, therefore, also went extinct, except for those pets which eat the same artificial food that people eat. People live in climate-controlled biospheres, and there are a few trees to maintain oxygen and to add a bit of color. Meat is an expensive luxury, affordable only to the ultra-wealthy, and the mass-production of paper or parchment is unfeasible. Electronic components, such as tablets, become the literary medium of choice, by default. Tablets are still expensive, so lending-libraries with many tablets to borrow is still more budget-friendly than buying one's own.

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  • $\begingroup$ It would be several times cheaper to have one one tablet per library user, not one tablet per text. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 21:49
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Physical and digital books can be copied. For a truly 'digits rights management' system, there has to be some form of encryption.

Recall those flat 2D images that look like nonsense, but if you stare at them in the right way, they become a 3D image? The image is all in your head, not on the paper.

I can foresee a system wherein the tablet has encryption technology for the data on it, and your eyes have some form of contact lens that decrypts the signal. Perhaps some form of polarizing filter that only lets select pixels through, based on some encryption algorithm. Without the decryption, the image from the tablet is just random noise, that even if copied, produces even worse non-encrypted random noise. Totally meaningless, with absolutely no meaning in the data stream.

The tablet and your personalized eye filter would have to be synched, at the point of transaction, in a private-key public-key quantum encryption system. Only then will your filter be able to 'read' the content of the tablet. The image will be 'all in your head'. Only you, and your mind, will be able to extract any data from it. Your personalized serial number in your filter has to match the personalized serial number of the book and of the library to unlock the data. The public-key private-key synch will be a time-sensitive, one-time-only interaction controlled by quantum entanglement computing. And since quantum entanglement is a one-off system that is 'localized' to a specific 'entanglement event', each entangled tablet would be unique in its quantum entanglement. No possibility of duplicating the tablet with the data on it, since the original entanglement 'pair' would also have to be duplicated. The data would only be in useable form on that tablet only.

Thus, very high-end 'professional' books and manuals, containing very expensive data that the authors wish to be protected, would be stored on their own limited-edition tablets, keyed/encrypted only for that data, to ensure their limited distribution. These would be kept in 'libraries', where the data was not able to be transmitted over any form of 'net'. One would have to personally have the tablet in order to have access to the data.

And since the entire process could be made time-limited, much like a library has a 'due back by' date, when the borrowing time was up, the encryption key is no longer valid, and the tablet just displays noise to the viewer again. The tablet would be only so much useless technology, unless returned to the library and re-activated. The data on it would otherwise be lost forever.

Being able to download the information onto the tablet would defeat the purpose, as there is now a copy in a 'downloadable' format in existence, that can be hacked by others at the distributed source (library, book store, or other). To be a truly 'limited edition' format, the original work would have to be stored in a controlled facility where the tablets were produced, and not further distributed or made available. Thus, one tablet, one iteration of the data. The number of tablets with that data on it could be strictly controlled. If the tablet is destroyed, the data on it is permanently 'out of circulation'.

I suppose a human could be the intermediary to copy the data from the encrypted form to another form, much like someone reading a book into a recording device, but the public-key private-key would be controlled as to who has access to it. Also, I can not envision how pictures, images, and graphs could be transcribed.

I doubt if the system would be used for mass-market pulp-fiction and such, as the circulation would not be great enough to make each novel profitable, and these mass-market books have a short best-before date. However, for really good works of literature, limited edition works, and for books that contain highly valuable information that one does NOT want in mass circulation, I suspect there would be a limited market for select libraries in select places, like universities and such. Collectors, as well, might have access to the synch technology that would allow them to provide access to the tablet for others to enjoy, allowing them to pass on the public key to others, but the original tablet would still have to be physically present to view it. One tablet, one copy of the works on it.

Think perhaps along the lines of great artistic creations, works of literary and digital art much like the 'one-off' works of the physical art masters. Art galleries would evolve into 'tablet galleries', viewable only to those who's personalized eye filters were quantum entangled/synched/encrypted to the tablet.

Addendum

Even a 'block chain' technology, such as is used for cryptocurrency, can be 'split' and then each copy placed on a completely separate 'net', each 'net' now a copy of the original cryptocurrency, that can be circulated within its own system. The block chain cryptocurrency only has protection and value within its own distribution net, its own contiguous block chain. Only a 'physical hard copy', suitably encrypted and uniquely serialized, can ensure that the works are kept original and 'limited edition'.

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the tablets while only containing 1 book at a time can be downloaded with any book in the library's digital archive every book can be any book this means that books don't have to be sorted or rearranged and new books can be added more easily. As to why each tablet can only hold one book I don't really have an idea for that but it could work as an incentive to return the tablets in order to have a new book stored on them.

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