eBooks or Dead Trees? Maintaining a Prepper Library
Are you building up a library of prepper resource materials? You definitely should be.
If you’re like us, you probably already have somewhere between hundreds of thousands and literally millions of pages of resource material, spanning tens or even hundreds of gigabytes of data on your hard drives. It is very easy to download and save material from many different sites and sources.
If you’re like us, you’ve maybe also bought some CDs or DVDs filled with prepper type content, adding still further to the vast resource of material you have.
Indeed, our biggest ‘problem’ with our data is not knowing what we have. We’ve so much of it, indeed we just counted and we have 137,000 prepper files, including some zip files that have in turn hundreds more files within them, and we know we have sometimes downloaded things twice, and if we had to find information on a specific topic, well, that could be a time-consuming problem!
Again, if you’re like us, not much of this is printed out, and most is sitting in abstract electronic form on your hard drive(s). It is easily to download a five hundred page manual that you might never need – it costs you almost literally nothing to download and save onto a hard drive, for a ‘just in case’ future use – maybe sometime, probably (hopefully!) never.
Now think about the future that you’re saving all this material to help you with. What happens if we suffer an EMP and most of our electronics are fried? Or what happens if your hard drive simply dies – how thoroughly backed up is the material you downloaded? Or, even worse, if your computer fails. Never mind the data backup – how many spare computers do you have, too!
Did you know that CDs and DVDs have finite lives? Sooner or later, the data on them will start to corrupt and eventually become unreadable.
And even if the data remains secure and readable, sooner or later, your electronics will die. Maybe they will die quickly, through an EMP or power surge or something. Maybe they’ll just slowly fail as the natural lifespans of the electronics passes, or maybe they’ll die quickly of ‘infant mortality’ (electronic devices tend to either die quickly, or else last most/all of their expected lives before failing). For that matter, did you also know that some electronic components age and expire whether they are being used or not – specifically, electrolytic capacitors, which have about a 20 year life and at some point subsequently, will start to become ‘leaky’ (in an electrical more than physical sense) and fail.
Our point is simple. A printed out book is a remarkably long-lived device, and while it has some vulnerabilities (eg to water and fire, also to dogs and small children) you’ll usually find books are more reliable and guaranteed to ‘work’ in adverse situations than is the case with modern electronics.
Should you therefore be printing out everything you download and save?
The answer to this question is a modified ‘no, not really’. We’ll wager that probably 95% of everything you download is stuff you’d never look at, no matter what happens WTSHTF. But, and here’s the catch – can you be sure which of the many things you’ve downloaded will be in the 95% unnecessary and which will be in the 5% of necessary/essential reference resources?
But what do you print out, and what do you leave in electronic format? Furthermore, there are more downsides to eBooks than ‘just’ the concern that the electronics will fail.
If you can only read eBooks and other electronic files on your computer, how truly convenient is that? Your computer – even if a laptop/portable rather than desktop unit – still weighs many pounds, needs power, and is somewhat fragile. You probably don’t want it sitting out in the field alongside you as you work out how to construct something. If you drop a book, you pick it up again. If you drop a computer…..
You can’t have your computer or eBook reader in more than one place at once – you can’t have someone in the kitchen using it for cooking, someone in the workshop using it to repair something, someone in the living room using it to read for relaxation, and so on. Sure, each physical book can only be in one place too, but you can have each of your many books in a different place.
Call us old-fashioned, but we see a clear role for hard copy printed books in our retreats.
However, let’s also look at some of the upsides of eBooks, as well as their downsides.
We keep coming back to the gigabytes of downloaded ‘just in case’ reference material we have here. We’ve no idea how many hundreds of thousands of pages of content there are in all of these, but even if we say there is ‘only’ 100,000 pages of key content, how much paper/space/cost would that require to print it all out?
You can partially answer that question with a visit to your local office supply store. Look at the size of a box of ten reams of paper (10 x 500 sheets = 5,000 sheets). Now look at the size of a pallet full of those boxes of paper. That’s quite a lot of space, isn’t it, particularly if neatly laid out on bookshelves rather than stacked on pallets. 100,000 sides, (if you can print double-sided, and if you can’t, you’d probably be well advised to buy a duplex printer prior to this enormous printing project) would require 50,000 sheets, or ten of those boxes, plus extra space for covers and whatever else.
That’s an appreciable amount of space, and we’ve not started to address the question of how you’d bind the printouts together (probably either in ring-binders or, more space efficiently, by simply stapling short works and using re-usable fold-over binding posts for larger works). Plus there’s the cost – the paper cost is minimal, and less than a couple of cents a sheet, but then add additional for the ink or toner to print onto them (get a low cost per page laser printer rather than a high cost per page inkjet printer), and all up, 100,000 sides/50,000 pages of content probably end up costing you $2,500 or more.
Now you need a way to store and index all this material, too. So you need some shelving and space to put it, and some sort of indexing system so you can find it in the future. That’s more time, more money, and more hassle.
If you have a million pages of material (we’re sure we have at least that much, ourselves) your $2,500 project has become a $25,000+ project, and you’ll literally need a library room in your retreat.
So, much as we love traditional physical books, it seems there is clearly a need for balance, with some content in hardcopy form and much more remaining in electronic form.
Our suggestion is to invest in some eBook readers – not just one, but several.
However, don’t necessarily rush out and buy an Amazon Kindle type dedicated eBook reader. There’s one huge problem with all Kindles (and some smaller problems too).
Kindles have a limited degree of on-device storage, and for more than that, they need to be synched with Amazon’s cloud service. That works well at present, but in a ‘grid down’ situation, there’ll likely be no internet and so no way to synch your Kindle with Amazon. This is, obviously, their very big problem.
Their smaller problem is that they’re not as ‘open source’ as a regular Android tablet, and try to lock you into the Amazon ‘eco system’, making it harder for you to view other eBook formats and files. You don’t have this problem on a generic tablet that would conveniently allow you to view all common eBook formats.
You should get tablets that can accept SD or micro SD cards, as well as being able to be connected to a computer and to be directly synched that way. Almost unavoidably, these will probably be Android based.
Sure, you’ll be spending money for each tablet purchase to do this, and more to buy up a supply of memory cards, but that is all probably both essential and also much better than spending some thousands of dollars printing out all those slightly weird and very out-of-date manuals and scanned pdf copies of things.
You’d be astonished at how inexpensive tablets can be, these days. While Apple still charges way over the odds for their iPads, you can now get competing products for astonishingly great values. Amazon have tablets for sale that cost less than $100 each,. You don’t need the most modern state of the art super-tablets when all you need them for is reading books. Just make sure they have a version 4 or greater of Android, and a micro or full size SD card reader on them. A rare and not really essential bonus would be a replaceable battery.
When you have your tablets, you need to load a PDF reading program onto them, and also probably Amazon’s Kindle eBook reading software. That way you have the best of both worlds – you can directly read your own PDFs, and can also download – and store – any Kindle books you buy through Amazon as well.
We suggest you keep your electronic library resources – the tablets that are designated as primary readers, and the removable media (micro or regular SD cards with the files on them) in a Faraday cage type storage unit. This doesn’t need to be anything fancier than a lined metal container (lined with foam or something, keeping everything inside the container away from the metal sides) with a securely fitting metal lid and a good electrical seal between the container and its lid. That makes everything reasonably secure against both EMP type attacks and other external environmental threats (extreme weather, rain, and animals/insects) too.
You’d want to take the units out and discharge/recharge their batteries once every quarter or so, and of course from time to time you’ll update your inventory of data files on your memory cards.
If you do this, then whenever you need to be able to access your electronic library, and in a grid down situation with your normal electronics no longer available to you, it becomes an easy thing to open up your cookie tin/Faraday cage and start using your eBook readers.
We’d be sure to have two copies of everything on memory cards, and at least one hard drive full of the files too, giving you plenty of backup and options for accessing your files in the future.
Currently (ie Aug 2014) the ‘sweet spot’ for micro SD cards is to get cards holding 64 GB per card. You probably only need a few of these. If you were buying 128 GB cards, your cost per GB of storage goes up. If you buy 32 GB or lower capacity cards, you’re still paying the same cost per GB, and end up with more of the cards to keep track of and not lose.
If you don’t already have a huge collection of prepper files and texts, you should work on growing it as best time allows.
While some clearly essential titles should be purchased in print form, or printed out if purchased electronically, we encourage you to get as much material in electronic form, and to keep this on micro SD cards and view the files on inexpensive (ie less than $100 each) tablets.
Oh yes. Do we also need to say – be sure to keep backup copies of all your files!