Thursday, September 3, 2009

First thoughts on: Soules, The shifting landscape of e-books

New Library World 110.1/2 (2009): p7-21. doi: 10.1108/03074800910928559 (University of Illinois Access)

Why should you read this: This is a pretty good summary and comparison of the most salient and striking findings of the ebrary surveys. I also enjoyed the author's own insights gained from on-the-ground interactions with users, librarians, and library staff. If you haven't read the ebrary surveys yourself (and don't feeling like wading through them) this article serves as a pretty good surrogate. It's also well written and a generally pleasurable read.

In Brief: Review of the some findings in the 2007-2008 ebrary e-book survey of libraries, librarians, and users about their perceptions and use of e-books, with added information provided from the author's own experiences.

My thoughts:

I understand the author's desire to see the teaching of the advanced features of e-book not supported (or at least certainly frowned upon :) in the print world- like annotating and highlighting text, or the automatic creation of citations, or any cool, useful feature that would, once taught, drive students to use e-books. However, at this point in the evolution and adoption of the e-book, that just doesn't seem practical. Every vendor/publisher platform offers different variations of "advanced features," and e-books as content are very transitory at this point (see the author's mention of a chapter of one e-book being revoked, or e-books moving between platforms from year to year). On the other hand, if we do come to a point where there is a standard file format for e-books that users can download and permanently archive (similar to a PDF, but based on something more flexible and non-proprietary, like the open .epub standard as a delivery format and not, as it seems more likely to become, an industry storage/exchange format that gets converted to a proprietary format for delivery to end users) then at that point we can start to teach advanced ways to interact with e-books (like highlighting and annotating). Once those features can easily be overlaid onto e-books, independent of the platform they were hosted on/delivered through, in a completely publisher/vendor agnostic way (think of the various open standards that dictate how web content is authored, and how any number of web browser and other application can easily manipulate this content in any way), then, at that point, we should rush out and start teaching users how these advanced approaches can make their digital consumption easier and richer (at the same time :) than print consumption. Once we get to that point (_sigh_, I mean if) then librarians and instructors can begin to offer lessons on the advanced manipulation of texts, knowing that the tool they are teaching (say the Zotero of e-book markup and manipulation) will remain available to their students for use indefinitely (okay, I know that's never going to happen, where talking about file formats and electronic devices after all) or at least for a reasonably long period of time, then we teach them how.

Interesting quote: "Fundamentally important is the need to broaden the concept of an e-book" p.10

Interesting quote: "Ability for more than one student to use an e-book at the same time… When students reach the [license based access] limit, they do not know why… They do not connect e-books with the concept of circulation. They are used to entering databases without a user limit." P. 13

Interesting quote: "The students… basically want to cut and paste into their research papers, print for easier reading or reading when online is not practical (on public transit, for example), or download to use later… One [barrier to this use] is clearly copyright and publisher concerns." p.13

Interesting quote: "There are a couple of other drivers that will influence how soon students become fully used to e-books. One of these is the textbook market." p.14

Interesting quote: "Thus, the tide appears to be shifting generally in science, humanities, and social sciences, with e-books undergoing a slow evolution rather than a dramatic revolution." p.15

Interesting quote: "Faculty does think that there are too many technical restrictions on e-books, citing printing, number of users, etc." p.16

Interesting quote: "e-books currently tend to be more expensive than print books." P.17

Interesting quote: "Despite the issues and despite slower-than-expected evolution, e-books prevail" p.19

Warning- nitpicking and good-natured ribbing follows. I have a slight issue with the word choice here. I don't feel that e-books, at this point, have really lived up to the hype to the point where I'd see them as deserving of the term prevail, as in
"effectual or efficacious; successful." If we consider the generally obsolete use of the term, "to become very strong; to gain vigour or force; to increase in strength," well, that I'll give the academic e-book market. They have been gaining force/popularity/prominence, just not at the rate we'd like (and keep getting promised).

I do concur with the authors conclusion that the ascendency of the e-book in general (and academic use/prominence in academic libraries in particular) is happening now, and will displace print books eventually, although the exact format of and method of delivery/access may change dramatically before we get to that point. The author, wisely (unlike many pervious e-books proselytizers) is not lured into making predictions on just when this might happen.