The University of Manchester - The University of Manchester Library
First Impressions

The legacy of the explosion of print today

The Greek word techne means skill or craft and gives us the word technology, which refers to man-made artefacts developed from scientific ideas that serve a practical purpose. We now associate the word technology with a host of objects including those that deliver information - televisions, computers and mobile phones. Before these came perhaps the single most important example of information technology - the book - which allowed information and ideas to spread in a highly portable form.

Scientific discoveries and technological developments in many areas, including mechanics, chemistry, metallurgy and engineering, combined to create the book in the form we recognise today.

The typefaces modelled and cast by early printers were chosen to mimic the local handwritten scripts of manuscript books. As print technology advanced the creation of typefaces became a recognised art form. Letterforms were developed for specific uses and others became instantly associated with brands of goods.

The Internet and the World Wide Web, through which you read this, are part of the evolving technology that began with the fifteenth-century development of movable-type printing. The digital age will continue to challenge the ongoing existence of printed books but there also many continuities between print and electronic media. Just as early printers imitated manuscript letter forms and bound their products to mimic manuscript volumes, web designers create "pages", bound by hyperlinks, and organized into networks of useful knowledge like those constructed in early printed books. Digital font designers seek inspiration from the pioneers of typography in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The human eye, trained by centuries of using books, still prefers black text on a white screen. At the same time, computer screens take us back to an era before books: we 'scroll' down screens of continuous text and images, like ancient rolls.

Libraries such as the John Rylands Library are also exploiting of the power of the Internet. We are digitizing unique and rare books and manuscripts, and making them accessible through 'Turning the Pages' technology, in the form of virtual books. Never has it been easier to find and view examples of early printed books.