Longtime Lancaster bookbinder Tony Haverstick contemplates the evolving technology of the book.
Bound to change By Michael Long, Staff Writer email@example.com
On the outside, not a lot has changed at 28 N. Water St. in the last 170 years.
When Tony Haverstick walks out the front door of his bookbinding shop headed for Lancaster Central Market, he wrestles with the same door latch and passes under the same arched doorway as German immigrant bookbinder Charles Kraus did when he owned the shop in the mid-19th century.
Given the trappings of Haverstick's profession, the 700-square-foot interior of the modest 1½-story brick building also retains much of its early character. Centuries-old books in various states of repair and disrepair lie about in stacks and crowd the fireplace mantle.
One particularly impressive volume, about the size of a small computer printer with thick boards and a pair of clasps to fasten it shut, looks as if its sheer weight might crush the likes of an iPad.
But today, in the world of the book, the reality seems to be the other way around.
Though Water Street Bindery maintains the physical appearance of an institution frozen in time, its business -- or at least the central mechanism of its business, the book -- is changing rapidly.
Advances in Internet and computer technology have revolutionized reading, erasing words from the printed page and redistributing them electronically to tablet computers and eBook readers around the world.
Last summer, the Association of American Publishers reported that in the first quarter of 2012, eBook sales of $282.3 million outstripped adult hardcover sales ($229.6 million) for the first time.
More than ever before, people are curling up with their Kindles and Nooks and leaving the "real" books on the shelf. Some believe eBooks mark the beginning of the end for printed books.
Haverstick isn't so sure.
"A lot of skeptical old, curmudgeonly book dealers think, 'It's all over. This is the last generation.' I just don't know," Haverstick says, scratching his chin. "I'm just not so sure that's true."
With seven decades behind him, and more than four of them spent binding books, Haverstick considers the sea change in the book trade with the passion of a true book lover, the experience of a skilled craftsman and the objectivity of the philosophy student and teacher he was in his mid-20s.
Change, he is quick to point out, has been a constant in the technology of reading. The scrolls of ancient Athens gave way to the codex -- what we know today as the standard book form -- which is much easier to navigate than, say, a 30-foot scroll. The invention of eyeglasses in the 13th century made it possible for people to read well into old age. Johannes Gutenberg gave the world the printing press in the 15th century, which made it possible to produce books in greater quantities and increase their distribution among regular folk. In the early part of the 19th century, paperback books came along to grease the skids for the mass marketing of printed literature.
Then along comes the electronic book.
When discussing the topic, Haverstick at first mistakenly refers to them as "iBooks." He's still catching up with the lingo, but he's very aware of, and to some degree intrigued by, the new technology.
"You can type in any word and find it in the text," he says. "I don't remember how many times I've leafed back through trying to find a phrase or a paragraph. So, you know, that's a good technology."
But he's definitely of two minds on the subject: While he understands and appreciates the natural progression of technology, his hands are sunk deeply, firmly into the tactile reality of print.
Haverstick specializes in the restoration of books that are 200 to 400 years old. By his best estimate, there are only a few hundred other craftspeople in the country who do what he does.
Two years ago, he restored a 1611 King James Bible, the first edition. It had no binding and was missing some pages, so he had the pages reproduced on handmade paper and stained them to match the original text. Recounting this momentous project, he reveals some of his passion for books.
"I mean, there's the original 1611 Bible, the King James Bible, which is so familiar to all of us, and here it was in its original form. It gave you a real connection. You know, it was from King James' time, it was King James' language and it was made from English trees."
Books like that early Bible are historical artifacts that can bind the people holding them to a period in time. In that sense, he says, books will last because, as with art and furniture, there will always be collectors who want to hold and touch the artifacts themselves.
As for the fate of the everyday personal library (his, of course, is extensive) in an increasingly digitized world, Haverstick remains uncertain.
He acknowledges that wanting to pick a book off the shelf is just a personal habit, one that, if pushed, he could certainly live without. But no one's pushing him, and he's not moving in that direction.
Haverstick loves books, and for a man who makes his living protecting their outsides, he possesses an exceptionally clear understanding that the most important part of a book is what's on the inside.
"It's not the book; it's the reading. The book is just the hardware. It's the vehicle. So if the reading can be accomplished ... as well or better in some other way, it's not really tragic."n
"You can type in any word and find it in the text. I don't remember how many times I've leafed back through trying to find a phrase or a paragraph. So, you know, that's a good technology."
Tony Haverstick, on eBook readers