Book end?


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Are fishkeeping books a thing of the past, asks forum moderator Bob Mehen.

I was flicking through my collection of books on fishkeeping, when a thought suddenly struck me – are books really the best way of communicating knowledge and advice in the hobby today?

When I started keeping fish in a serious way in the mid 1980s, there were three main ways of learning new information on techniques and fish species. You either read a book, joined a club, or went to your local shop and asked the large man with a beard behind the counter, (all shop owners in the 1980s seemed to fit this description).

Now this being the 21st century, things have changed, (although possibly not the large man with a beard).

The most obvious one of these being the advent of the internet and websites and forums like the ones run and hosted by Practical Fishkeeping. This is undoubtedly the most dynamic area for expanding your knowledge – there are a host of websites out there – and as long as you read the more reputable ones then the advice tends to be up-to-date, and well researched.

The problem with books is the fast changing nature of the hobby today. I haven't been involved with writing or publishing books, but I imagine that it isn't a quick process - you'll need to pitch the idea, write out the draft, sort out the pictures and layout etc.

All this must take some time, and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if by the time the book has finally been published that some facts will be out of date.

Take taxonomy for instance - with new DNA techniques, re-classification of already described species seems an almost daily occurrence, so just as you get used to your Corydoras, you discover that in fact you're keeping Scleromystax (pictured above).

This is where magazines and the internet become ever more important. They are able to keep pace with this change, where as a book released just a year ago can appear terribly dated.

The techniques and technology of the hobby seem to be changing faster than ever as well, particularly in the areas of marine and planted aquaria where new ideas seem to be as fertile as the substrate in one of George Farmer's tanks.

I have several books published in the last five years which show things such as undergravel filters, canister filters which appear to have been cobbled together from old buckets and gaffer tape at home and go to great lengths to describe cycling your tank with hardy fish.

Although the basics of keeping many fish are the same as they ever were, and the main point of all the technology we employ is to keep the water as stable and clean as possible, the means by which we achieve this have changed dramatically.

Reefs have gone form externals, to wet and dry filters, to live rock 'Berlin' method, sumps, algal refugiums, deep sand beds and Miracle Mud, ULNS – who knows where it'll go next? One thing that seems certain is by the time the book is published to describe this 'new' method it'll already be the 'old' way!

With clubs disappearing at an alarming rate, and reliable information on the internet and in monthly magazines so easily and cheaply available, are books on the hobby increasingly a thing of the past?