Friday, December 18, 2009

Collecting and storing books

For a long time buying books was considered at the very least practical. As long as it was economically sound, having a nice small library at home was without doubt a useful thing. However is this still true now? Naturally, I am not talking about buying fiction (this is after all a math blog).

To better illustrate the question, lets consider the following example. About a year ago some friends of my grandfather gave me a good multi volume encyclopedia. Obviously it is not something that is expected to be used everyday, but I didn't open it even once in all this time. The reason for this is simple - if I want information about some specific subject, it is easier for me to search in the Internet. It is almost certain that there will be an article on this subject on Wikipedia, or some other place.
To a certain degree the same is true even for my math textbooks\notes. Frequently enough I prefer to search on the Internet for a specific definition or proof of a certain theorem. Unfortunately, this is often less successful than searching for staff one can find in an encyclopedia.

As a result we get the following situation - while we have lots of available books it doesn't seem practical to invest money in buying them. This is especially true about buying new editions of books we already have, or books that cover the same topic but use different approaches. This is especially true considering how overpriced some books are.
A possible solution to this is downloading books (for free). While not all books can be downloaded for free from the net, it is possible to find good books on any given topic. For example there is currently a collection of over 600 math books available on bittorent. There is also a nice collection of calculus books on the same site. The only problem with those collections is that they will not remain available forever. In other words, it is a good idea to download it even if you don't need it right now.

This however brings us to a second problem. While it is possible to download lots of books from the net, we also need some way to organize them so that it will be possible to use them. Another problem is keeping an up to date backup (you wouldn't want to lose 10GB of books suddenly would you?).
I must admit that I don't feel that I managed to make any serious progress in solving either of these two problems. For backup, I long ago decided that burning my files to CD or DVD is not a good idea. It becomes difficult to keep track of the backups, and also the discs tend to be damaged so it is not very safe. Another option, is to keep a copy of your files on the web. I personally use Google Docs. It can only be used for pdf files up to 10mb, so some books I cannot upload, but it is really reliable and the way it is build makes organizing books relatively easy. Some times ago I tried to use Scribd for storing some of the large books I have. Unfortunately, it didn't work. They check the files that you upload, and if they notice that you have books that are copyrighted they will delete them. I also tried to use DivShare, but it is rather unreliable and overall not something I would recommend.

In the end the decision whether to have a digital book library or not is a personal one. In my case I decided to do it out of pure love for books. I just cannot say no to an opportunity to have a library. I do hope however that I will manage to make use of all those books I collected...

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