The Unbound Book: Reading and Publishing in the Digital Age

19 – 21 May
Hogeschool van Amsterdam (19 May), Koninklijke Bibliotheek (20 May), Openbare Bibliotheek (21 May)

Conference Statement
The conventional notion of the book, based on centuries of print, is becoming rapidly outdated. Meanwhile the capacity to create digital book-like functions and forms is endless. In a double sense, the book is unbound, both from the bindings of the printed volume, but also the boundaries between types of content (pictures, video, animations, and games) and modes of authorship in a wide, interconnected electronic space.

These possibilities may be exciting, but the digital book is left without obvious contours. The entire concept of ‘bookness’ needs reinvention. To do this well, we must go back to the basics. That means not only questioning the future of the book and its institutional and intellectual infrastructures, but also asking what we may want to retain of the familiar printed volume, even as we embrace the digital future.

Those developing these (sometimes competing) technologies and standards too often ignore perspectives beyond immediate market-driven concerns. It is critical therefore that cultural and user-centric initiatives step in to affect how we design, utilize, and disseminate the book’s future forms. What new models can advance writing, collaborating, distributing, reading and interpreting knowledge? What affordances can affect the formatting and designing of dynamic content? Through panel discussions, presentations, and workshops, the Unbound Book Conference will bring together academics, designers, writers, librarians, software and hardware developers, and publishers who want to take part in defining their roles within this transformative landscape.

The questions the conferences raises falls under our six session themes:

What is a Book?
Is a book the material container for reading, a printed page or an e-reader, or is it content, an entity of externalized memory, a metaphor for knowledge? What transmutations of the book have succeeded and what have failed to take hold…and why?

The Unbound Book
If connected to other information, is the book still a book? Do we herald the death of the individual author with the rise of collaborative writing? What role will editorial and technical standards play? While the printed book seems finite, is there room for works that never achieve closure, that remain in an unfolding state?

Ascent of E-readers
What will happen to sustained reading and argumentation in an environment amenable to browsing and instant gratification? When can short-formats – blogs, wikis, listserves, cell phone novels – promote radical opportunities for lively discussion and self-expression without reducing our capacity for critical thinking?

Future Publishing Industries
If the book has no paper-based bindings, how will publishers package and monetize content? How will libraries organize and distribute information?

Books by Design
How does text interact with the aesthetics of code and with dynamic, process-oriented information? Can we promote open-source design practices and new grammars of typography?

The Unbound Book II: Horizons of Education and Authoring
What new computational possibilities does the digital book lends to scholarly research? How do digital books’ algorithmically driven semantics give us new ways to facilitate scholarly practices and collaborations?