A book is a collection of leaves of paper, parchment or other material, bound together along one edge within covers. A book is also a literary work or a main division of such a work. A book produced in electronic format is known as an e-book.
The oral account (word of mouth, tradition, hearsay) is the oldest carrier of messages and stories. When writing systems were invented in ancient civilizations, clay tablets or parchment scrolls were used as, for example, in the library of Alexandria.
Scrolls were later phased out in favor of the codex, a bound book with pages and a spine, the form of most books today. The codex was invented in the first few centuries A.D. (or earlier? Some have said that Julius Caesar invented the first codex during the Gallic Wars. He would issue scrolls folded up accordion style and use the "pages" as reference points).
Before the invention and adoption of the printing press, almost all books were copied by hand, which made books comparatively expensive and rare. During the early middle ages, when only churches, universities, and rich noblemen could typically afford books, they were often chained to a bookshelf or a desk to prevent theft. The first books used parchment or vellum (calf skin) for the pages, which was later replaced with paper.
In the mid 15th century books began to be produced by block printing in western Europe (the technique had been known in the East centuries earlier). In block printing, a relief image of an entire page was carved out of wood. It could then be inked and used to reproduce many copies of that page. Creating an entire book, however, was a painstaking process, requiring a hand-carved block for each page. The oldest dated book printed by this method is The Diamond Sutra.
The Chinese inventor Pi Sheng made moveable type of earthenware circa 1045, but we have no surviving examples of his printing. He embedded the characters, face up, in a shallow tray lined with warm wax. He laid a board across them and pressed it down until all the characters were at exactly the same level. When the wax cooled he used his letter tray to print whole pages.
It was not until Johann Gutenberg popularized the printing press with metal moveable type in the 15th century that books started to be affordable and widely available. This upset the status quo, leading to remarks such as "The printing press will allow books to get into the hands of people who have no business reading books" (need source for quote).
The following centuries were spent on improving both the printing press and the conditions for freedom of the press through the gradual relaxation of restrictive laws. See also intellectual property, public domain, copyright, need expansion; early books were usually freely copied.
In the mid-19th century, paper made from pulp (cellulose, wood) was introduced because it was cheaper than cloth-based paper (term?). Pulp based paper made cheap novels, cheap school text books and cheap books of all kinds available to the general public. This paved the way for huge leaps in the rate of literacy in industrialised nations and eased the spread of information during the Second Industrial Revolution.
However, this pulp paper contained acid that causes a sort of slow fires that eventually destroys the paper from within. Earlier techniques for making paper used limestone rollers which neutralized the acid in the pulp. Libraries today have to consider mass deacidification of their older collections. Books printed 1850–1950 are at risk; more recent books are often printed on acid-free or alkaline paper.
The proper care of books takes into account the possibility of chemical changes to the cover and text. Books are best stored in reduced lighting, definitely out of direct sunlight, at cool temperatures, and at moderate humidity. Books, especially heavy ones, need the support of surrounding volumes to maintain their shape. It is desirable for that reason to group books by size.
Collections of books
Maintaining a library used to be the privilege of princes, the wealthy, monasteries and other religious institutions, and universities. The growth of a public library system in the United States started in the late 19th century and was much helped by donations from Andrew Carnegie. This reflected classes in a society: The poor or the middle class had to share most books through a public library or by other means while the rich could afford to have a private library built into their mansion.
The advent of paperback books in the 20th century led to an explosion of popular publishing. Paperback books made owning books affordable for many people. Paperback books often included works from genres that had previously been published mostly in pulp magazines. As a result of the low cost of such books and the spread of bookstores filled with them (in addition to the creation of a smaller market of extremely cheap used paperbacks) owning a private library ceased to be a status symbol for the rich.
While a small collection of books, or one to be used by a small number of people, can be stored in any way convenient to the owners, a large or public collection requires a catalogue and some means of consulting it. Often codes or other marks have to be added to the books to speed the process of relating them to the catalogue and their correct shelf position. Where these identify a volume uniquely, they are referred to as "call numbers".
In library and booksellers' catalogues, it is common to include an abbreviation such as "Crown 8vo" to indicate the paper size from which the book is made.
When rows of books are lined on a bookshelf, bookends are sometimes needed to keep them from slanting.
Keeping track of books
For the entire 20th century most librarians concerned with offering proper library services to the public (or a smaller subset such as students) worried about keeping track of the books being added yearly to the Gutenberg Galaxy. Through a global society called the International Federation of Library Association s (IFLA) they devised a series of tools such as the International Standard Book Description or ISBD.
Besides, each book is specified by a International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, which is unique to every book produced by participating publishers, world wide. It is managed by the ISBN Society. It has four parts. The first part is the country code, the second the publisher code, and the third the title code. The last part is a checksum or a check digit and can take values from 0-9 and X. The EAN Barcodes numbers for books are derived from the ISBN by prefixing 978, for Bookland and calculating a new check digit.
Many government publishers, in industrial countries as well as in developing countries, do not participate fully in the ISBN system. They often produce books which do not have ISBNs. In certain industrialized countries large classes of commercial books, such as novels, textbooks and other non-fiction books, are nearly always given ISBNs by publishers, thus giving the illusion to many customers that the ISBN is an international and complete system, with no exceptions.
Transition to digital format
The term e-book (electronic book) in the broad sense is an amount of information like a conventional book, but in digital form. It is made available through internet, CD-ROM, etc. In the popular press the term eBook sometimes refers to a device such as the Sony Librie EBR-1000EP, which is meant to read the digital form and present it to a human being.
Throughout the 20th century, libraries have faced an ever-increasing rate of publishing, sometimes called an information explosion. The advent of electronic publishing and the Internet means that much new information is not printed in paper books, but as made available online e.g. through a digital library, on CD-ROM, or in the form of e-books.
On the other hand, though books are nowadays produced using a digital version of the content, for most books such a version is not available to the public (i.e. neither in the library nor on internet), and there is no decline in the rate of paper publishing. There is an effort, however, to convert books that are in the public domain into a digital medium for unlimited redistribution and infinite availability. The effort is spearheaded by Project Gutenberg combined with Distributed Proofreaders.
There have also been new developments in the process of publishing books. Technologies such as print on demand have made it easier for less known authors to make their work available to a larger audience.
Related articles and lists
- List of books by title
- List of books by author
- List of books by genre or type
- List of books by award or notoriety
- List of books by year of publication
- Online bookstores
- The Book & The Computer — exploring the future of the book in the digital age.