If there’s one thing book lovers love equally to reading books, then it is perhaps the collection, organization, display, and sharing of books that we have read or plan to read. But with everyone online, and with the dawn of the metaverse fast approaching, readers are changing the way we show off our most beloved possessions—books. Will we all one day have a virtual home library in the metaverse, and what will yours look like?
The World for Book Lovers Before the Internet
Before the internet, the only option for book lovers to present their book collection was of course via a home library. Still to this day what book lover hasn’t dreamed about his or her perfect home library or reading room with floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookcases filled with books? A book takes on new meaning and importance when it is placed with others in a bookcase or bookshelf in one’s home, like displaying a framed picture in a prominent position in our living area or admiring flowers planted in our garden. We take pride and ownership in them. We swoon when we read about or see top-of-the-line home libraries featured in books and films (the library in Atonement, for example). The home library is perhaps deeply rooted in all readers’ subconscious minds, as precious as a writing room is for a writer or an artist’s studio is for an artist.
Libraries in general for book lovers are considered sacred spaces. The world’s oldest known library according to History.com is The Library of Ashurbanipal founded in the 7th century B.C. for the “royal contemplation” of the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal. Next is the Library of Alexandria, a literary treasure trove of over 500,000 papyrus scrolls containing works of literature and texts on history, law, mathematics and science, until it burned to the ground in 48 B.C.
Many modern-day libraries not only contain huge collections of books but are astonishingly beautiful (check out these libraries). And physical bookstores remain revered spaces for countless book lovers.
In the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, no one can deny the ambience and atmosphere of Joe Fox’s big chain bookstore pales in comparison to Kathleen Kelly’s Shop Around The Corner—and yet who could have foretold it wasn’t in fact Fox’s model of selling books that would win over Kelly’s approach, but in fact that of a man named Jeff Bezos, thanks to the electronic beep-beep-bop sound of an AOL sign on dial up connecting to the internet (and eventually Amazon) to the delight of the two booksellers, both of whom were completely clueless, as most of us were, as to what was about to happen.
The World for Book Lovers After the Internet
The advent of the internet changed everything. Before then, if you wanted someone to admire a book you were currently reading, you had to physically show it to them. The only way to buy a book, or enjoy the ambience of a library or bookstore, was to physically visit one.
Not anymore. With Amazon’s Kindle coupled with popular social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads, digital books, digital libraries, and the digital reading experience exploded onto the scene, forever changing the way readers read books, collect books, and share their reading experience.
Suddenly readers from all over the world had the ability to instantly download and read books on digital devices plus view and share images and videos of the books they were reading with others, many of whom they had never met in real life, all without having to leave the comfort of their homes. Photos, videos, GIFS, and memes about books, reading books, libraries, bookstores, and countless other topics related to books became and continue to remain a digital experience on multiple digital platforms, sometimes going viral and reaching millions of people. Pins of libraries on Pinterest and hashtag bookstagram on Instagram are just two examples of how the internet has changed the way book lovers consume, enjoy, and share their love of reading books.
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While a new generation of readers seamlessly use social media sites to show off their reading collections, one can’t help but ask the question, are these young readers simply recreating what older readers did before them—collecting, organizing, and sharing books and the general reading experience, only this time as digital objects? If so, there seems to be something unsatisfying about this duplication. Bookstagramers, booktubers, and booktockers, for example, create IG posts, youtube videos, and tiktock challenges that primarily feature their physical book collections, not eBooks.
@cassiesbooks Haven’t done a book challenge in a hot minute😅 #foryou #relatable #Booktok #bookchallenge #bookish #books #bookworm #reader #bookclub #booktoker ♬ original sound – luttewrites
Showing off or slipping a digital book into a digital shelf, whether it’s on a Goodreads account, an app, or on Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok, somehow doesn’t offer the same sense of satisfaction, permanence, and ownership as presenting and placing a physical book on a physical shelf in a physical home library.
Is a digital book, a digital library, or a digital reading experience less worthy than a physical book, a physical library, or a physical reading experience? We read books to gain knowledge, consume information, and travel, experience, and live life vicariously through the stories we read—all things that happen internally. And yet we seem to need an exterior record of this internal experience.
The World for Book Lovers in the Metaverse
Enter the near future and the metaverse, where pioneers such as Mark Zuckerberg promise virtual life experiences using VR headsets. The Library of Alexandria may have burned to the ground in 48 B.C., but in a couple of years, Zuckerberg and others like him tell us, it will be rebuilt, and you will be able to visit it in the metaverse. Even if you live in a farm in rural Iowa, without getting on a plane, you will be able to visit the New York Public Library. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the ’80s, you’ll be able to take a trip back in time to the school library in the film The Breakfast Club. And if you want, you can build, or have built for you, a virtual home library.
And so it seems we will eventually come full circle, arriving back to the dream of the perfect home library or reading room, only this time, if you want it, you really can have floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookcases filled with books a la the library in Atonement, or any other real or fictious duplication you so desire. While you are there, you will be able to take any book from any shelf, open it, and start to read. And you will be able to invite friends from all over the planet to visit.
Just what will happen to physical books and the physical home library, not to mention all the bookstagram, booktube, booktock, Goodreads lists, and scores of other book-related social media accounts and posts about books, is anyone’s guess. In a decade, will physical books and the home library be considered a relic of the past, regulated to a bygone era? Will Facebook groups for book lovers be sent to an internet wastebasket? In the virtual world, will the concept of a book even survive, or will it transform into something else—a virtual story, fluid, ever-changing, and interactive with the reader? In the metaverse, instead of reading about a protagonist in a novel, will you be the protagonist? What would Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox have thought if they knew what the future held when they sat behind their computers, listening to the AOL sign on dial up, waiting to connect?
What do you want your virtual home library to look like in the metaverse? And how will you feel when you take off your VR headset, blink, and find yourself in a room without books?
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